2. THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE, OR ANNUAL
ARE ALL familiar with the basic difference between English and
French parliamentary institutions; copied respectively by such
other assemblies as derive from each. We all realize that this
main difference has nothing to do with national temperament, but
stems from their seating plans. The British, being brought up on
team games, enter their House of Commons in the spirit of those
who would rather be doing something else. If they cannot be
playing golf or tennis, they can at least pretend that politics is
a game with very similar rules. But for this device, Parliament
would arouse even less interest than it does. So the British
instinct is to form two opposing teams, with referee and linesmen,
and let them debate until they exhaust themselves. The House of
Commons is so arranged that the individual Member is practically
compelled to take one side or the other before he knows what the
arguments are, or even (in some cases) before he knows the subject
of the dispute. His training from birth has been to play for his
side, and this saves him from any undue mental effort. Sliding
into a seat toward the end of a speech, he knows exactly how to
take up the argument from the point it has reached. If the
speaker is on his own side of the House, he will say "Hear, hear!"
If he is on the opposite side, he can safely say "Shame!" or
merely "Oh!" At some later stage he may have time to ask his
neighbor what the debate is supposed to be about. Strictly
speaking, however, there is no need for him to do this. He knows
enough in any case not to kick into his own goal. The men who sit
opposite are entirely wrong and all their arguments are so much
drivel. The men on his own side are statesmanlike, by contrast,
and their speeches a singular blend of wisdom, eloquence, and
moderation. Nor does it make the slightest difference whether he
learned his politics at Harrow or in following the fortunes of
Aston Villa. In either school he will have learned when to cheer
and when to groan. But the British system depends entirely on its
seating plan. If the benches did not face each other, no one could
tell truth from falsehood--wisdom from folly--unless indeed by
listening to it all. But to listen to it all would be ridiculous,
for half the speeches must of necessity be nonsense.
France the initial mistake was made of seating the representatives
in a semicircle, all facing the chair. The resulting confusion
could be imagined if it were not notorious. No real opposing teams
could be formed and no one could tell (without listening) which
argument was the more cogent. There was the further handicap of
all the proceedings being in French--an example the United States
wisely refused to follow. But the French system is bad enough even
when the linguistic difficulty does not arise. Instead of having
two sides, one in the right and the other in the wrong--so that
the issue is clear from the outset--the French form a multitude of
teams facing in all directions. With the field in such confusion,
the game cannot even begin. Basically their representatives are of
the Right or of the Left, according to where they sit. This is a
perfectly sound scheme. The French have not gone to the extreme of
seating people in alphabetical order. But the semicircular chamber
allows of subtle distinctions between the various degrees of
tightness and leftness. There is none of the clear-cut British
distinction between rightness and wrongness. One deputy is
described, politically, as to the left of Monsieur Untel but well
to the right of Monsieur Quelquechose. What is anyone to make of
that? What should we make of it even in English? What do they make
of it themselves? The answer is, "Nothing."
All this is generally known. What is less generally recognized is
that the paramount importance of the seating plan applies to other
assemblies and meetings, international, national, and local. It
applies, moreover, to meetings round a table such as occur at a
Round Table Conference. A moment's thought will convince us that a
Square Table Conference would be something totally different and a
Long Table Conference would be different again. These differences
do not merely affect the length and acrimony of the discussion;
they also affect what (if anything) is decided. Rarely, as we
know, will the voting relate to the merits of the case. The final
decision is influenced by a variety of factors, few of which need
concern us at the moment. We should note, however, that the issue
is actually decided, in the end, by the votes of the center
bloc. This would not be true in the House of Commons, where no
such bloc is allowed to develop. But at other conferences the
center bloc is all important. This bloc essentially comprises the
Those who have failed to master any one of the memoranda written
in advance and showered weeks beforehand on all those who are
expected to be present.
Those who are too stupid to follow the proceedings at all. These
are readily distinguishable by their tendency to mutter to each
other: "What is the fellow talking about?"
Those who are deaf. They sit with their hands cupping their ears,
growling "I wish people would speak up."
Those who were dead drunk in the small hours and have turned up
(heaven knows why) with a splitting headache and a conviction that
nothing matters either way.
The senile, whose chief pride is in being as fit as ever--fitter
indeed than a lot of these younger men. "I walked here,"
they whisper. "Pretty good for a man of eighty-two, what?"
The feeble, who have weakly promised to support both sides and
don't know what to do about it. They are of two minds as to
whether they should abstain from voting or pretend to be sick.
Toward capturing the votes of the center bloc the first step is to
identify and count the members. That done, everything else depends
on where they are to sit. The best technique is to detail off
known and stalwart supporters to enter into conversation with
named middle-bloc types before the meeting actually begins. In
this preliminary chat the stalwarts will carefully avoid
mentioning the main subject of debate. They will be trained to use
the opening gambits listed below, corresponding to the categories
a to f, into which the middle bloc naturally falls:
"Waste of time, I call it, producing all these documents. I have
thrown most of mine away."
"I expect we shall be dazzled by eloquence before long. I often
wish people would talk less and come to the point. They are too
clever by half, if you ask me."
"The acoustics of this hall are simply terrible. You would have
thought these scientific chaps could do something about it. For
half the time I CAN'T HEAR WHAT IS BEING SAID. CAN YOU?"
"What a rotten place to meet! I think there is something the
matter with the ventilation. It makes me feel almost unwell. What
"My goodness, I don't know how you do it! Tell me the secret. Is
it what you have for breakfast?"
"There's so much to be said on both sides of the question that I
really don't know which side to support. What do you feel about
these gambits are correctly played, each stalwart will start a
lively conversation, in the midst of which he will steer his
middle-blocsman toward the forum. As he does this, another
stalwart will place himself just ahead of the pair and
moving in the same direction. The drill is best illustrated by a
concrete example. We will suppose that stalwart X (Mr. Sturdy) is
steering middle-blocsman Y (Mr. Waverley, type f) toward a
seat near the front. Ahead goes stalwart Z (Mr. Staunch),
who presently takes a seat without appearing to notice the two men
following him. Staunch turns in the opposite direction and waves
to someone in the distance. Then he leans over to make a few
remarks to the man in front of him. Only when Waverley has sat
down will Staunch presently turn toward him and say, "My dear
fellow--how nice to see you!" Only some minutes later again will
he catch sight of Sturdy and start visibly with surprise. "Hallo,
Sturdy--I didn't think you would be here!" "I've recovered now,"
replies Sturdy. "It was only a chill." The seating order is thus
made to appear completely accidental, casual, and friendly. That
completes Phase I of the operation, and it would be much the same
whatever the exact category in which the middle-blocsman is
believed to fall.
Phase II has to be adjusted according to the character of the man
to be influenced. In the case of Waverley (Type f) the
object in Phase II is to avoid any discussion of the matter at
issue but to produce the impression that the thing is already
decided. Seated near the front, Waverley will be unable to see
much of the other members and can be given the impression that
they practically all think alike.
"Really," says Sturdy, "I don't know why I bothered to come. I
gather that Item Four is pretty well agreed. All the fellows I
meet seem to have made up their minds to vote for it." (Or against
it, as the case may be.)
"Curious," says Staunch. "I was just going to say the same thing.
The issue hardly seems to be in doubt."
"I had not really made up my own mind," says Sturdy. "There was
much to be said on either side. But opposition would really be a
waste of time. What do you think, Waverley?"
"Well," says Waverley, "I must admit that I find the question
rather baffling. On the one hand, there is good reason to agree to
the motion ... As against that... Do you think it will pass?"
"My dear Waverley, I would trust your judgment in this. You were
saying just now that it is already agreed."
"Oh, was I? Well, there does seem to be a majority. ... Or perhaps
I should say ..."
"Thank you, Waverley," says Staunch, "for your opinion. I think
just the same but am particularly interested to find you agree
with me. There is no one whose opinion I value more."
Sturdy, meanwhile, is leaning over to talk to someone in the row
behind. What he actually says, in a low voice, is this, "How is
your wife now? Is she out of hospital?" When he turns back again,
however, it is to announce that the people behind all think the
same. The motion is as good as passed. And so it is if the drill
goes according to plan.
While the other side has been busy
preparing speeches and phrasing amendments, the side with the
superior technique will have concentrated on pinning each middle-blocsman
between two reliable supporters. When the crucial moment comes,
the raising of a hand on either side will practically compel the
waverer to follow suit. Should he be actually asleep, as often
happens with middle-blocsman in categories d and e,
his hand will be raised for him by the member on his right. This
rule is merely to obviate both his hands being raised, a gesture
that has been known to attract unfavorable comment. With the
middle bloc thus secured, the motion will be carried with a
comfortable margin; or else rejected, if that is thought
preferable. In nearly every matter of controversy to be decided by
the will of the people, we can assume that the people who will
decide are members of the middle bloc. Delivery of speeches is
therefore a waste of time. The one party will never agree and the
other party has agreed already. Remains the middle bloc, the
members of which divide into those who cannot hear what is being
said and those who would not understand it even if they did. To
secure their votes what is needed is primarily the example of
others voting on either side of them. Their votes can thus be
swayed by accident. How much better, by contrast, to sway them by