Home Office series: 2015

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.’

Gangs in urban Britain: historical parallels and contemporary resonances

2 September 2015

The Scottish Chicago: the Glasgow ‘gang menace’ of the 1920s and 1930s

Dr Andrew Davies, Reader in History, University of Liverpool

By 1930, Glasgow had acquired an unwelcome notoriety as Britain’s ‘gang city’. Gangs were an entrenched presence in the city’s tenement districts, and their members were widely derided as mindless savages: unemployable, and physically and mentally ‘unfit’. This presentation offers a different perspective, locating gangs and their members not on the margins of urban life but at its centre. In an age of chronic, long-term unemployment, gang membership offered impoverished young men considerable kudos along with recognised communal roles (defenders of their neighbourhoods and their faiths) and a vital means to participate in the leisure boom of the 1920s and 1930s. Aggressive policing and exemplary prison sentences failed to prevent either the escalation of Glasgow’s gang conflicts or the growing resort to theft and ‘racketeering’ among the city’s unemployed. More successful interventions, pioneered by ministers of religion and probation officers, saw a number of prominent gangs re-establish themselves as social clubs, leading to a notable decrease in street violence. These initiatives were short-lived, but their initial success highlights the potential for small-scale, local initiatives to combat the ‘gang problem’.  

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Youth gangs in Victorian and Edwardian London

Dr Heather Shore, Reader in History, Leeds Beckett University

Anxieties about youth crime have been a recurring response to social upheaval since before Victorian times. From the later nineteenth century new forms of gangs were increasingly reported in cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and London. This presentation explores the youth gang ‘problem’ in later nineteenth and early twentieth-century London, considering the pattern of violent offending amongst older juveniles and young men. It outlines the characteristics of gang activities in relation to urban development, the economic and demographic position of the youths, and the response of the authorities to ‘ruffianly lawlessness’. The seminar will also consider the longer-term implications of outbreaks of youth gang violence. What was the political response? To what extent was the violence a product of social and demographic changes in the later nineteenth century? Can any parallels be drawn with current youth gang culture? 

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Elections and social disorder: Jon Lawrence

28 April 2015

Dr Jon Lawrence, Reader in Modern British History at the University of Cambridge

Hogarth’s famous prints remind us that eighteenth-century elections were often violent affairs. Even when heads were not cracked, they were tumultuous events. In many ways they were a form of carnival, complete with cross-dressing, disorder and mockery of those in power. But as with true carnival, these rituals ultimately affirmed the status quo – only men of property were legally entitled to stand for election. Historians now recognise that election rituals helped sustain a lively participatory political culture even when few had the vote. During the nineteenth century government gradually sought to tame the excesses of the English election – open voting and public nomination hustings were abolished in 1872, and penalties for corruption and intimidation were tightened a decade later. But down to the First World War, election disorder remained commonplace, reaching a new peak in the intensely fought elections of 1910. The traditional hustings had disappeared, but candidates now held hundreds of open public meetings where they often faced a hostile reception. Partisan crowds also continued to clash. Until 1918 General Elections were staggered over weeks to allow the pooling of local police forces.

In the twentieth century full enfranchisement undermined the perceived legitimacy of the crowd. But face-to-face encounters between candidates and public continued to be central to the ritual of an English election, first in the public meetings, and later in the choreographed election walkabout and the TV studio debate. These modern-day encounters have often provided the defining moments of recent elections, e.g. Prescott’s punch in 2001 and Brown’s disastrous encounter with Rochdale’s Mrs Duffy in 2010.  But for the Home Office, the big question is why this key symbolic function of the old tumultuous election culture has survived while the disorder and violence that once accompanied it has completely disappeared. The story of the taming of election disorder can offer broader lessons for those concerned with public order.

The presentation is not available for copyright reasons.

Read Dr Lawrence' opinion article, What will define the 2015 election? published on 30 April 2015.

The first air raids and the origins of civil defence: Susan Grayzel 

10 March 2015

Professor Susan Grayzel, Professor of History and Director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, University of Mississippi

During the First World War, zeppelins and then airplanes launched attacks on British civilian spaces and populations. These actions were often met in public with horror and revulsion, characterized as violating fundamental ideas about the nature of warfare given their attacks on ‘defenceless women and children.’ Given their unprecedented nature, the British government had quickly to improvise a set of responses: should warnings be given? And of what sort? What should the public do when the bombs started falling in London or on the Eastern coast?  What kind of information should be available in the raid’s aftermath?  At the end of the First World War, nearly every state that aspired to participate on the world stage began the process of using the war's aerial experiences to invent what would be become known as ‘civil defence’ - a set of practices, apparatuses, and policies that would enable civilian populations to withstand warfare waged directly against them. In Britain, this was a process that began in secret in 1924 and, by the mid-1930s, became part of a new branch of the Home Office with the creation of the Air Raids Precautions Department. By the outbreak of the Second World War, an entirely new government office - the Ministry of Home Security- had taken over the functions of the HO ARP Department. Whilst placing the British case study in a trans-European framework, this talk shed light on the unique challenges facing an island nation suddenly vulnerable to war from the air and committed to keeping civil defence under civilian control.

The presentation is not available for copyright reasons.

Slavery and trafficking: Paul Knepper and Julia Laite

21 January 2015

Professor Paul Knepper, Professional of Criminology, Sheffield University

In the 1920s, the American representative convinced the Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children of the League of Nations to carry out the first worldwide inquiry into the problem. The inquiry, led by a team of Americans who used undercover investigators in 112 cities in 28 countries, had been controversial from the start. Publication of the final report in 1927 put the British Secretary General, Sir Eric Drummond, in a dilemma. The report contained a statement from a New York theatrical agent, referred to as 18-R, that he had trafficked 300 women into prostitution in Panama.  Charles Tuttle, a federal prosecutor in New York, demanded to know the man’s name, and when director of field investigations for the inquiry refused, Tuttle threatened to subpoena him before a grand jury. The statement originated from an interview with a jazz singer and part-time prostitute in Panama to an undercover investigator, and the League did not want to expose its methods, not to mention its credibility, in an American court. The case of 18-R not only examines British administration of the League, and the League’s campaign against the traffic, but the difficulty of defining trafficking.  Based on documents from archives in New York and Geneva, Professor Knepper examined the undercover interviews, correspondence between officials, and newspaper clippings to find out what Drummond decided to do.

Dr Julia Laite, Lecturer, Birkbeck, University of London

Debates in government about prostitution and trafficking policy have been some of the most ideologically fraught yet important discussions of the past few years. New proposals to combat trafficking and prostitution through the rhetoric of ‘modern slavery’ have sparked some serious controversies over the way we respond to both phenomena. Some politicians have presented the criminalization of clients as a key ‘feminist’ approach; while others suggest stronger measures need to be put in place to punish ‘traffickers’. Dr Laite considered the surprisingly long history of these debates in Britain. It will examine the way that in many cases, criminalization made things far worse. She also highlighted some positive steps that have been taken, and some old ideas that might prove very useful when making new policies. 

The presentations are not available for copyright reasons.


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