Home Office series: 2014

History & Policy collaborates with the Home Office to deliver policy-relevant seminars. Leading historians present their research to civil servants to provide long-term perspectives on current policies and debates in areas of concern to the department. Each seminar is chaired by a civil servant and half the event is devoted to discussion. The series was initiated in 2014 by the Strategy and Delivery Unit and is now coordinated by the Learning from Experience Team in the Home Office. Deputy Director of the team, Bill Reay, explained the aims of the series: ‘By understanding our history we can better appreciate the context of some of today’s issues. The aim is for us to use this learning to influence our policy making.’

Border control in the 20th century: David Feldman  

12 November 2014

Professor David Feldman, Director, Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism, Birkbeck, University of London

In 1900 the British government sought neither to count nor control the number of immigrants entering the country. Today the ambition of government has been transformed. Professor Feldman examined the changing nature of immigration and border controls over the last century and will ask to what extent the British state has ever been able to survey and control immigration effectively. 

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The siege of Sidney Street: Carl Levy and Chris Williams 

10 September 2014

Professor Carl Levy, Professor of Politics, Goldsmiths and Dr Chris Williams, Senior Lecturer in History, Open University  

On 3 January 1911 two Latvian anarchists in an East End tenement resisted more than 200 armed police and a Scots Guards’ detachment for seven hours. The siege followed an attempted robbery – one of series designed to raise funds to help fellow revolutionaries in Russia and Latvia. The gang shot three policemen dead and injured two others. Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary, was at the scene, where hundreds gathered to watch. The violence of the siege, which ended only when the house caught fire and the anarchists burned to death, caused nationwide shock – and anxiety about immigrant communities in the East End. 

Dr Chris Williams described and analysed the authorities’ response, considering the resources available to London’s police at the time, the relationship between the Home Secretary, the Metropolitan Police, and the City of London Police. He described the way the initial raid and the siege were conducted, and consider whether or not it was ‘by the book’ – how important were technology, police institutional structures, and political control of state violence? He also described what we can learn from the precise tactics used and consider some of the ‘lessons learned’ at the time.

Professor Dr Carl Levy considered the siege via the affair of Errico Malatesta, an Italian anarchist living in London, who was questioned about the siege but released. At the time some saw London as the centre of world anarchism while for others it was a haven for those persecuted by despotism. Charting how the siege was investigated, Prof Levy explained how Malatesta was treated in a parallel case that used some evidence from the siege. Imprisoned for three months for criminal libel, and at risk of deportation under the 1905 Aliens Act, Malatesta was freed after a public campaign and intervention by the Home Secretary. The Malatesta affair offers interesting parallels with debates today about the right of asylum, ‘political crimes’ abroad, and the status of residents in the UK

View the presentation by Professor Levy

View the presentation by Dr Williams

Lessons from the MI5 and KGB archives: Christopher Andrew

16 July 2014

Christopher Andrew, Emeritus Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Cambridge University, and former Official Historian of MI5

Intelligence is the only profession in which a fictional character (James Bond) remains far better known than any real practitioner, alive or dead. Sherman Kent, the founding father of US intelligence analysis, noted in 1955 that intelligence still remained the only profession to lack a serious literature: 'From my point of view this is a matter of greatest importance. As long as this discipline lacks a serious literature, its methods, its vocabulary, its body of doctrine, and even its fundamental theory run the risk of never reaching full maturity.'

Because so much intelligence history was classified or unresearched, intelligence agencies were uniquely ignorant of their past experience. Those at Bletchley Park who broke Hitler's ciphers in WW2 were unaware that their predecessors had broken Napoleon's main ciphers in the Peninsular War, just as Wellington had no idea that Philip II's ciphers had been broken before the Armada. Over the last half-century, 'Historical Attention-Span Deficit Disorder' (HASSD) has hampered UK attempts to deal with (inter alia), Russian espionage, the IRA and Islamist terrorism. Though the past experience of UK and some other intelligence agencies is now far better understood, as the crisis in Ukraine has shown, HASDD remains a significant problem.

This presentation is not available for copyright reasons

The state goes to war: William Philpott  

18 March 2014

Professor William Philpott, Professor of the History of Warfare, Department of War Studies, King’s College London

The First World War presented nations with unprecedented challenges of government and national organisation. As the requirements of national mobilisation to fight Germany and her allies became apparent in Britain, the number of government ministries and their responsibilities grew year on year. Existing departments of state, including the Home Office, found their roles in civil society adapting to a national war effort. New ministries came about to service the needs of expanded armed forces and the strategies of attrition in which they were engaged – munitions, shipping, information, food, reconstruction and others.

This seminar reviewed the nature of the British state and its administrative functions on the eve of war, and the changes brought about by wartime. As well as considering why and how the state expanded, it will explain how the growth of the state impacted on individual lives and liberties during the conflict. On the one hand the expanded role of the state promoted opportunities and welfare; on the other it imposed new restrictions on civil liberties and personal freedoms. The Home Office for example was responsible both for the introduction of licencing laws, and the surveillance of enemy aliens in wartime. Such a growth in state activities and responsibilities left a legacy for government that defined the relationship between citizens and the state throughout the twentieth century and beyond.  

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Women in policing: Louise Jackson

7 May 2014

Dr Louise Jackson, Reader in Modern Social History, the University of Edinburgh

In 1915 Edith Smith was the first woman to be sworn in as a police officer in Grantham, whilst women across the country took up surveillance roles as voluntary patrols in public places during the First World War. Yet the number of women officers remained low for much of the twentieth century, increasing nationally from only 282 in 1940 to 418 in 1945 and to 4,000 in 1966. Women were employed on different pay, conditions and promotional structures to men until the implementation of the Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts of the 1970s. In larger towns and cities their work was organised through a ‘Women Police Branch’ or Policewomen’s Department’, headed by a senior female officer who was usually answerable only to the Chief Constable. Until the 1970s policing as an occupation was structured through gender. Women officers were viewed primarily as specialists in ‘feminine’ duties relating to children, adolescent girls and women complainants or offenders.

The seminar explored the implications of this. What difference did women make to the police service? To what extent were women officers able to forge their own occupational culture in the years before integration? Why was integration such a painful process?  It also examined the role of the first women to be appointed to the Home Office (from 1945 onwards) as part of His/Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies. How were female HMICs able to influence and shape women’s role in policing?  

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