Vlad SolomonNov 22, 2021
State Surveillance, Political Policing and Counter-Terrorism in Britain, 1880-1914
Boydell Press 2021
In 1850 Charles Dickens wrote that Great Britain had “no political police,” adding that “the most rabid demagogue” could speak out “without the terror of an organised spy system.” In his book State Surveillance, Political Policing, and Counter-Terrorism in Britain: 1880-1914 (Boydell Press, 2021), Vlad Solomon describes how Britain gradually developed a system of “high policing” during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras that contradicted Britons’ popular belief in their tolerant society. As Solomon demonstrates, contrary to Dickens’s blithe assurance, Britain had irregularly employed political policing prior to the 1880s. The threat posed by Fenian terrorism, however, compelled the British home secretary, William Harcourt, to create a specialized section of the London Metropolitan Police in response. This evolved into Special Branch, which subsequently found its remit expanded to include monitoring political radicals, aliens, and even militant suffragists. Yet despite their increased range of duties, the number of detectives assigned to such tasks remained limited until espionage concerns and the prospect of war prompted the government to overhaul political policing with the creation of a new agency – the future MI5 – in order to provide more effective monitoring of the political threats facing the country.