Of Cliques and Factions

Cliques: Loud and Damaging

A salient point in the Labour Party report on the reasons for the defeat in the last elections is the existence of “klikkek” within the party. The word “kilikkek” translates to English, quite literally, as “cliques”. A “clique” is described as “a small, exclusive, group of people” – the operative word being “exclusive”. The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the following result for the word “clique“: “1711, from Fr. clique, from O.Fr. cliquer “to make a noise,” echoic. Apparently this word was at one time treated as the equivalent of claque.”

Today’s Times editorial dwells on the fragmentation and self-destructing party dynamic of the different party cliques. The editorial points out:

“Hardly any party or organisation is immune to internal trouble or the inbreeding of cliques but, when the pull of such trouble or cliques strengthens itself to a proportion that affects the central unifying force, it often leads to derailment.”

The sentence is a veiled defence to any argument that states that cliques cannot possibly be the only problem because everybody under the sun knows that the Nationalist Party has been equally afflicted by “cliques” – in their case power bases intended to consolidate the position of certain groups of individuals with the party. No doubt, the Times is once again performing its duty as unofficial apologist of the boys in blue but there is another implied truth in this statement that goes beyond apologist editorials – one that Labour sympathisers and reformers would do good to notice.

Cliques within a political party are not a local phenomenon and exist elsewhere. What is interesting is the way they have evolved within the Labour party, gnawing away at the very foundations and backbone of what is necessary for a party to function. To exist even. The problem with a clique is the reason for its formation. An exclusive group of persons intent on extending its power base for its own benefit does not have the interests of the party as its main priority. It exists to ensure the survival of the individuals – more than that it strives for a successful placing as high up in the hierarchy as possible.

The basic principle behind a clique is “help yourself and the others in the clique” – almost akin to a Masonic Agreement. In the political world a clique is not identifiable by a common political cause – let us say for example those in favour of making the introduction of more social rights like divorce. It is solely restricted to a power-hungry movement or sometimes to a movement formed to oust another one (think Gordon Brown though not exactly).

The MLPN are most prone to have cliques during election campaigns. The competition in districts is restricted between candidates of the same party insofar as certain “guaranteed” votes are concerned. That cliques occur in such circumstances are inevitable. It is also possible that clique-forming could occur within the dynamics of the party – normally compensated with the formation of shared power-centres one for each large or dominating clique allowing for a certain balance.

Factions: Purpose and Substance

What we have not heard about in the Labour Report is “factions”. A political faction is no new discovery. Political factions are omnipresent, especially in large parties. Some apologists would have us believe that the Nationalist party is an umbrella party that has different factions including what must be a very silent “liberal” one. There is no doubt in my mind that something of the sort does exist within the PN though the way the party functions does not allow for much transparency in that field (of ideological factions – call them nuances if you like) – given the one-way traffic at the PN general councils they seem to be very far from having an open and honest debate about the ideological differences that exist.

A faction is not a defection or a whistleblower on alleged corrupt practices. It is a healthy (though sometimes problematic) existence within a party that has a set of priorities based on different political ideas. Different from what? It may be different from the mainstream or more probably there may be different factions with different ideologies competing to push them at the head of the party agenda. A faction does not work to split the party (that is only a last resort when agreement seems to be so far from being reached that the only solution is the creation of another party). Factions debate (and yes, in this macchiavellian world of points of order, right of speakers to vote and party organisations sometimes use “underhand” tactics) in order to get their agenda as part of the party agenda.

Here is Wikipedia’s description of a political faction (my underlining):

“A political faction is a grouping of individuals, especially within a political organisation, such as a political party, a trade union, or other group with a political purpose. It may also be referred to as a power bloc, or a voting bloc. The individuals within a faction are united in a common goal or set of common goals for the organisation they are a part of, not necessarily shared by all of that organisation’s members. They band together as a way of achieving these goals and advancing their agenda and position within the organisation.”

As I said, even the work of factions can turn out to be deleterious to a party’s health. Long power-struggles between internal factions can still diminish the party’s appeal to the electorate. Factions also require individuals playing the role of the “leader” or as wikipedia calls them “magnets” around whom the faction forms. Factions have one substantial advantage over clique. Their substance is based around a set of goals, an agenda, that is more often than not political in nature. They bring to the party a level of debate about principles, ideas and policies that are absent from cliques.

Some parties prefer their factions to act internally. That is an organisational choice depending on the effects any struggle between factions may have on the public perception of the unity within the party. Let us not get waylaid by the debate of “going public” or not although it has its own merits. At this point my reflection centres on the problems of the Labour party as highlighted by the report.

Coupled with the call by the report drafters for the Labour party to be less scared of “intellectuals” (as they call them) and of engaging in debate, this issue of the cliques must be of primary concern to whoever wants to reform the party into a working viable alternative. The temptation is to iron out all differences and create a uniform party where individuals must get, if you excuse the vulgar Maltese expression, permission for every fart. The practices of the Labour organisational structures seem to point in that direction – permission to speak, permission to think and permission to exist as a Labourite.

This is a reaction to trouble caused by cliques and the ugly image they portray. Power for power’s sake is an ugly trait of Maltese politics, from the smallest movement within a party to the hegemony of MLPN on national politics. The risk is that in reacting to this report, the wheat is thrown away with the chaff and what is left is a factionless but spineless Labour party that might as well be a management organisation of sorts – managing fifty percent of the disillusioned electorate and expert only at producing reports explaining failures. That is not what the average Labourite wants, that is not what this country needs.


* Picture: Jean de la Lune (fanfare)

  • Dans les armées, une clique désigne également une fanfare ou une musique militaire. Dans un régiment, elle correspond à un groupe d’instruments : tambours, clairons, caisses claires, trompettes, etc. Par extension, une clique est aussi un ensemble de musiciens civils, jouant ces mêmes instruments et interprétant des musiques militaires ou des musiques rythmées entrainantes.
  • Une clique est aussi un terme péjoratif pour caractériser un groupe restreint qui a pris le pouvoir dans une région, ainsi
  • la Clique du Château était un groupe de riches familles au Bas-Canada au début du XIXe siècle,

6 responses to “Of Cliques and Factions

  1. Jennifer Galea

    My compliments. Not the usual superficial rubbish we get on the subject, such as we have been accustomed to expect from the loony Daf-type right. May we reproduce it in Labour in labour, please, duly crediting authorship and source?

    Jennifer Galea

  2. danny attard

    Agreed that the wheat should not be thrown away with the chaff… the problem seems to concern a lack of sieve to separate the two… it may have to depend on a DIY exercise by a new leader. Labour lacks natural ballast that the NP possesses – corporate demands. (this may sound Bolshy but I assure you it is not). Labour is of course made up of significant cores who unconsciously crave for acceptance by the upward-mobile NP. (Why else would the MLP leak to the extent it does?). Observe the on-going exodus from One Productions. Labour needs to cultivate a principled ballast in the Alphonse Maria Galea, Anton Buttigieg Joe Cassar spirit. A new leader can still build an excellent team, bring together a formidable coalition of positive ‘factions’ that will translate into an inspirational Government, (the three persons I mention formed part of peripheral factions and did not form part of a mainstream one) but it may be naturally prohibitive for a labour leader to build a formidable party. This is not intended to be a statement but food for rumination (use rumination because I do not know how to spell thought 🙂 ) If I did I would seek to become upwardly mobile 😉

  3. So the Times says that cliques exist in every organisation but, in the case of Labour, the “pull” of these cliques is threatening the party’s “central unifying force”. And you say this is just a case of the Times acting as an apologist for the Nationalist Party.

    In the following paragraph you say that cliques exist in every organisation but, in the case of Labour, the “pull” of these cliques is threatening the party’s “foundations” and “backbone”.

    But then, of course, it’s others who are wearing tinted glasses.

  4. Shall I compare thee to Alfred Sant?

    Check it out on:


  5. Pingback: Flashback: Cliques & Politics | j'accuse

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