Deborah Cohen: Response to Working Paper No. 1

For our second response, we asked Deborah Cohen from Northwestern University to share her thoughts on MBS Working Paper No. 1.

Deborah Cohen, Northwestern University

Deborah Cohen, Northwestern University

I see a great many advantages to the research agenda Modern British Studies at Birmingham is setting out in its first Working Paper, have a few suggestions about how that agenda might be further sharpened, and want to offer one main reservation.

Let me start with the reservation.  On the whole, I think that the heterogeneity of the modern British field has been a good thing, not a weakness.  The fact that the field has entertained a wide variety of approaches and subjects has inevitably resulted in some fragmentation, which I’d define as a proliferation of work not always in conversation when it ought to be.  But it has also meant that the modern British field has been very dynamic, open to new sorts of questions and methodologically catholic.

The historiographic action has been fairly well balanced between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a marked contrast with both the Russian and the German fields. The fact that there hasn’t been a rank-ordered set of questions propelling the modern British field – indeed, that there hasn’t been a consensus about what counted as the important questions – has helped to encourage experimentation, and thus to nurture fresh research.  For me, as a new PhD nearly twenty years ago, trained both in German and in British history, it was this quality of the modern British field that most appealed to me, and is something I continue to appreciate.

Creating overarching interpretative frameworks is of course an important exercise, and their lack for twentieth-century Britain by contrast to the plethora for the nineteenth century (most recently, James Belich’s Replenishing the Earth) has been much commented upon.  I take the ‘cultures of democracy’ initiative, then, not as an exclusive research agenda, but rather, as a project intended to spark and concentrate debate, even to encourage competing explanatory schemas.

I emphasize this last point not just because I think narrowing Birmingham’s interpretative horizons even to such a capacious subject as ‘cultures of democracy’ would be a loss.  As a strategy for postgraduate training, too, I would be concerned about organizing themes that short-circuit what seems to me a key requirement for graduate students:  figuring out how their own arguments contribute to larger intellectual debates both inside and outside the national field.

Now, that said, a few impressions about ‘cultures of democracy’ as a project.  As sketched out in the first working paper, ‘cultures of democracy’ as a focus should help to bridge whatever boundaries still remain between cultural, social, political, economic and intellectual historians, distinctions that have, to my mind, largely eroded in the practice (if not in self-identification) over the last twenty years.

The project’s attention to hierarchies of value and its plan to span the conceptual divide between the Victorians and the moderns will both prove very useful.  The focus on the ordinary and the individual in the Birmingham working paper is appealing, not least because it fits with the zeitgeist, as the success this summer of both Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood demonstrate, and thus offers an excellent avenue for public engagement.   And the larger question that frames this focus – ‘How were the private realms of personhood and public worlds of politics and social interaction related?’ (p. 5) – opens up rich and still relatively unmined territory.

Two further thoughts, then, as the project develops:

1. Targeted national comparisons

Since so many of the questions that the Working Paper asks about Britain’s cultures of democracy – about the position of the individual in emergent mass democracies and cultures, about globalization and shifting patterns of rule – are inherently comparative subjects, I’d underscore the call on p. 4 to “consider both the exceptionalism and commonalities of modern Britain.”

Attention to Britain’s imperial history and to transnational exchange are key, but so, too, will be broad reading in the Americanist and Continental Europeanist secondary literatures, if not outright comparative research.

To what extent, for instance, does Ross McKibbin’s formulation about late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain (‘a high degree of social cohesion but not social integration’) still hold and if so, how does it distinguish Britain from the United States, France or Germany?

What about the ‘recurrence of conservative pluralism over three centuries’ that David Feldman has identified as a British strategy for managing ethnic and religious minorities and immigrants?

Comparison is no panacea, but it is an efficient way of locating starting-points and sharpening one’s interpretative frameworks as the work proceeds.  Some of the analytical spade-work of ‘cultures of democracy’, I imagine, will be figuring out the British manifestations of phenomena that made roughly contemporaneous appearances across the industrialized world.

2. Generalizing from the individual

Working Paper No. 1 poses a stimulating set of questions about the ways that the private realms of personhood translated (or didn’t) into the public worlds of politics and social interaction.

This focus has the potential to upend (among other things) how we explain the relationship between policy-making and the private realms of individuals and families, indicating that our answers thus far have sometimes reflected what is readily visible – and thus easier to study – rather than cause-and-effect.

Still, figuring out the cumulative consequences of actions that appear, at least at first, stubbornly individual is a difficult task.  The standard of proof is elusive.  How many individual accounts do we need in order to discern ‘how everyday actions…create new subjectivities as well as new forms of social action’?

Do histories that start with the individual and move to the social necessarily require more inference than the other way around?  Charting the often quiet revolutions in attitudes and expectations that happen on democracy’s ground floor is going to be a big undertaking, but one well worth pursuing.  I look forward to working with the Modern British Studies group as the project moves forward.


Antoinette Burton: Critical Histories of the Present – A Response to Working Paper No. 1

In this week’s blog, Antoinette Burton responds to Working Paper No. 1 in the first of a series of responses. We welcome your comments below.

Antoinette Burton University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign USA

Antoinette Burton
University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign USA

I’m delighted to be asked to engage with the calls for new kinds of thinking about British history in the Birmingham Working Paper (heretofore BWP).  Significantly, I was approached to do so while attending the recent “History after Hobsbawm” conference held at Senate House in spring 2014. Like the BWP, the Hobsbawm event sought to refresh longstanding conversations – in that case, by pivoting questions about historical practice and narrative on the life and work of one very influential historian in the wake of his death.

This is arguably a moment of stock-taking more generally in the profession, which has been buffeted on both sides of the Atlantic by the variety of crises – political, social, economic, intellectual and cultural – generated by the global fiscal catastrophe of 2008.

Six years on, we are still reeling from the shock to a variety of systems set in motion by the threat of total collapse of banks, the slump in housing markets and the downturn in stock markets from New York to Tokyo. Governments have failed, the working class and working poor have been devastated, and steady unemployment has stagnated an already struggling middle class. These events were dominos set in motion, of course, by the history of postwar financial capital and the cultures of risk and depredation they entailed.

Higher education in the US and the UK has been seriously impacted, from the ground up: the rising cost of undergraduate education and consequent student debt together with the ongoing challenge to the value of a traditional degree raise serious questions about the viability of the current academic model, and of history itself as a vocation and a field of study in a STEM marketplace.

The present has always exerted pressure on those who think, teach and write about the past. But those pressures are now more globally apparent, and never more so in the context of the practices of “national” history. These are the contexts in which the BWP asks us to rethink the objects and methods of history and to reconsider the kinds of historical narratives we need to make sense of the modern British past.

The BWP identifies a number of salient problems:

1) The persistence, even now, of a presumptively whig political narrative – which privileges narratives of elite conciliation and containment on the road toward democracy as against struggle, contest, and fitful pathways in and out of democratic practice;

2) The limits of the project of provincializing Britain – which began with challenges to the home-away vector and are now taken up by work that invokes the global;

3) The failure of race, class and gender histories, whether singularly or through intersectional analyses, to produce anything other than fragmented accounts that supplement rather than challenge grand narratives;

4) The need for “persuasive,” readable, accessible narrative histories that can offer alternatives to traditional models and reach a broader public than just academics;

5) The urgency of making democratic cultures a flexible, capacious center of intellectual debates and struggles over what British history is and could/should be in the first quarter of the 21st century.

Each of these claims has merit, and each one would produce very interesting discussions among the broad field of modern British history practitioners were there to be an open debate beyond those of us responding to the BWP.

Some would agree with the diagnoses; others would be critical of some of these premises; and still others would challenge the very slice of “British history” selected for examination (how do inherited periodizations undergird our narratives? When does “the modern” begin?).

In my view, the problem is less the problems per se than that that we simply don’t argue over anything, really, anymore. As I wrote in my paper for the Hobsbawm conference, in the context of a broader discussion of the impact on the so-called new imperial history on contemporary forms of practice: beyond some whinge-ing in quiet corners of the senior common room and in a few isolated book reviews, there has been no significant, purposeful stage for arguing about what some see as the incommensurabilities of old and new imperial histories.

Susan Pederson recently regretted in the pages of the London Review of Books that we don’t have the good old clanging matches we used to have over class and the new social history, and that that’s a bad thing. I share her regret about the absence of real debate on the big questions that animate – mainly by skulking on — the seabeds of the field. And this is not because I am necessarily spoiling for a fight, but because there are questions – many of them raised by the BWP – that are surely worth fighting over.

If there is fault to be had here, part of it lies with those of us who have eschewed grand narrative and/or – content to work in our own particular patch — have ceded the floor to those willing to take it up, often in the kind of blockbuster form that “the public” tends to read. But there is also responsibility on the part of those writing the big books to keep up with what’s happening in the field as a whole.

In empire history, for example, it’s quite clear that Niall Ferguson hasn’t read a page of what’s been written by cultural or postcolonial historians in the field in the last twenty years; nor has John Darwin for that matter. They are certainly within their rights to disagree vehemently with it. But by now it surely has enough of an accumulated density to warrant genuine engagement, if not the status of legitimacy as well.

As a result of these occlusions, grand narratives of British imperial power remain not just incomplete but distorted; they suffer from false claims not just of totality but of explanation and causality and scale; they cannot actually track cause and effect or historical consequence without the full range of subject matter and methodological approach that a combination of old and new approaches make available.

And this limit has its impact on gender and cultural history as well, for without real engagement with that work we will never right-size, say, the role of women and gender in the imperial experience; we will scarcely be able to appreciate why sexuality acted as a break on imperial power, when it did, or to accurately assess the nature and character of white male and middle class domination in the psychic life of empires.

We might say the same of British history as a whole (regardless of how we feel about the proportional role of empire in it). If British history is a kind of social practice, it’s also an ethnography of certain forms of social practice, and of their cultures and politics as well. As we head toward a vision of the field that the BWP calls for, I hope we can seriously, respectfully argue over the very premises upon which it is based.

I could imagine, for example, a ground-clearing workshop organized around each of the problems it has identified, with lively and yes, fractious debates not just about the veracity the claims, but over why and how such problems have emerged out of the history of the last several decades – since, say, The Making of the English Working Class or Davidoff and Hall’s Family Fortunes or Peter Fryer’s Staying Power or James Vernon’s Re-reading the Constitution, or Cain and Hopkins’ “gentlemanly capitalism” work or any number of key books or articles that laid down stakes in the ground at the time.  And in keeping with the BWP’s awareness of the power of “dead ends,” we could also explore and even revive roads not taken.

In any case, it seems to me that we don’t understand enough about the intellectual, political, cultural and economic history – and historiography — of the extended historical moment we are seeking, understandably, to break with, and that grappling with that history might be a good way to start.

‘Purity and Danger’: the newly-discovered Diaries of William Telfer, 1912-1914

In this week’s second MBS blog, Archivist Dr Helen Fisher shares more fantastic material from the University’s Cadbury Research Library. Helen can be found on twitter at @HelenxFisher.

Helen Fisher

Helen Fisher

A recently discovered collection held at the Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections has turned out to be an exciting find, with great potential for research into the social and cultural life of a Manchester clerk in period immediately leading up to the First World War.

Purchased from a rare book and manuscript dealer in 2005, the collection consists of four diaries and a scrapbook kept by William Prince Telfer, born in 1893, and living at Grafton Street, Rusholme, with his parents and younger brothers. The diaries cover the period January 1913 to September 1914, and there are detailed entries for each day. The scrapbook contains press cuttings dating from 1915 and 1916. Telfer worked as a clerk at Berisfords wholesale grocers, in Manchester, and spent much of his free time involved in activities run by the 6th Manchester Scout troop. He was a member of the Old Scouts Association and editor of the troop’s monthly magazine, writing detailed diary entries about his involvement with his Scout troop and friendships with other group members.


Reading was Telfer’s other major leisure interest. The diaries are full of references to books he read, which were either borrowed from local libraries or purchased. He was particularly interested in contemporary fiction, but also read plays, poetry, and biographies, as well as some books on history, and art. Entries are interspersed with press cuttings, often consisting of book, theatre and art exhibition reviews – Telfer watched plays as well as reading published scripts – as well as Scouting, women’s suffrage, and issues connected with the social purity movement. From August 1914, there are also articles about the early stages of the First World War in France and Belgium.

Telfer was clearly influenced by his reading, and often expressed his thoughts about the books he read. His diaries also contain evidence of his thoughts about religion, morality, and politics, and his concerns about whether to volunteer for service in the First World War. He had a keen interest in journalism, and wanted to become a writer, occasionally mentioning his frustrations about his job as a clerk, and about living at home with his parents.

The diaries are rich in detail about Telfer’s shifting friendships with others in his Scout troop, and also with work colleagues, often seen in the context of his concerns about ‘purity’. He seems to have seen himself as a mentor to younger friends and work colleagues, and many entries contain observations about their moral and sexual attitudes and behaviour which he saw as dangerous. This was often centred on conversation about masturbation and sexual activity, though he also reports incidents involving sexual contact. Though Telfer apparently disapproves, he was also clearly intrigued by this behaviour, and other evidence in the diaries suggests that he was interested in, and perhaps attracted to, men.

The diaries are now catalogued online with full description of their content and a brief biography of William Telfer (Finding Number MS202)

Alternative views of the Chamberlain family

This week’s MBS blog comes from The University of Birmingham’s Archivist, Dr Helen Fisher. She shares some of the rich material from Chamberlain papers held within the University’s Cadbury Research Library. Helen will be writing about other finds in the archives on Wednesday.

Helen Fisher

Helen Fisher

July 1914 marks the centenary of the death of Joseph Chamberlain. Events planned by the Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections over the next few months include exhibitions and the creation of new resource guides to the Chamberlain family archive collections. Research for these projects revealed both the expected and unexpected images of Chamberlain. We can see Chamberlain the young businessman and politician, and as the statesman in later life, gazing authoritatively to the camera through his monocle. We also see Chamberlain as the University of Birmingham’s first Chancellor in ceremonial robes, reinforcing his power and importance.

Yet the archives contain other photographs of Chamberlain which are relatively unknown. These are informal images taken by his third wife, Mary. Mary seems to have been a keen amateur photographer, gathering photos together in Kodak albums. Many of them depict scenes of family life at Highbury, Chamberlain’s residence in Birmingham. The photographs included here are part of a larger series and show Chamberlain with his granddaughter, Hilda Mary, child of his youngest daughter, Ethel.

cad 1








Hilda Mary was born in 1901, and her mother died in 1905. As a child she spent long periods of time at Highbury, where she was looked after by her aunts, Ida, Hilda and Beatrice, and also spent time with her uncles, Austen and Neville. Joseph Chamberlain is seen here as a fond grandfather, and Hilda Mary is clearly happy in his company. Mary Chamberlain presumably never intended these photographs for public dissemination, but perhaps wanted to capture members of the family relaxing at home, and to depict Joseph Chamberlain as an affectionate grandfather, in contrast to his public image.

These photographs suggest possible ways to use the Chamberlain archives to explore family relationships, particularly the substantial correspondence between the Chamberlain siblings. This material has been studied to chart the development of both Austen and Neville Chamberlain’s political careers but has not been widely investigated to study the lives of their sisters. Letters span the period from the early 1890s when the sisters were living in Birmingham and London, to the 1930s when Ida and Hilda were based in rural Hampshire and involved in local government work and voluntary social welfare initiatives in both health and education.

As well as documenting aspects of the sisters’ work, the letters express their views on contemporary political, economic and social issues, and discuss their social engagements and cultural lives. They also allow information about their friendship networks and their role within the wider Chamberlain and Kenrick families to emerge, including their relationship with their niece Hilda Mary.

A recent addition to the archives adds to the potential research use of the collections in this area. It consists of a set of picture postcards sent to Hilda Mary during the 1900s, annotated with personal messages from her ‘Grandma’ and ‘Grandpa’ and from her aunts and uncles. Many of the postcards contain early tourist views of locations as diverse as Tenerife, Croatia, and Egypt. Taken together with the travel diaries of Neville, Ida, and Hilda Chamberlain they form useful sources for the study of the travel experiences of members of a wealthy middle class family in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These are just a few examples of the kinds of material in the Chamberlain family archives; their research potential extends well beyond political history.




Why Peaky Blinders tells us all we need to know (and more) about the 1920s

Matt Houlbrook

Matt Houlbrook

Two episodes into the second season of the BBC television series Peaky Blinders and I’m already reminded of why the exploits of Thomas, Polly, and the rest of the Shelby family tell us all we need to know (and more) about 1920s Britain. Or, at least, give us all the questions we need to ask to understand the aftermath of the Great War.

Let’s get this straight: I know that the Birmingham gang the series riffs on were around in the 1890s rather than the 1920s. And sure, the story plays fast and loose with historical figures like Billy Kimber and Darby Sabini, two of the most notorious leaders of the violent race course gangs of the period. But (with all due respect to one of my colleagues here), if all you have to say about an imaginative and engaging piece of television is that it doesn’t fit with the ‘facts’ then you really are showing a spectacular failure of imagination. Is it really that important to ‘iron out historical inaccuracies’ for the show to work?

Perhaps things would be different if I was writing about the Peaky Blinders for an academic journal, or if this was a documentary about Birmingham in the aftermath of war. But it’s not. Peaky Blinders is entertainment. Challenging and provocative, operatic in scale yet intimate in the way it captures the emotional dynamics of Shelby family life and the texture of everyday social relations in the working-class neighbourhood of Small Heath, it nonetheless succeeds in giving us an impression of the 1920s in ways that Downton Abbey never can.

In one sense the success of Peaky Blinders rests in the questions it confronts us with. When the show first aired the internet was full of the mutterings of disgruntled Brummies complaining that Cillian Murphy and the rest of them had mangled the ‘real’ Birmingham accent. Yet how do we know how working-class men and women like the Shelbys sounded over 90 years ago? Regional accents change over time. And don’t tell me that your grandparents or great-grandparents didn’t talk like Aunt Polly: individual accents change over time, particularly in a period when wireless and television allowed ordinary Britons to hear different patterns of speech in daily life.

As the historian Jessica Meyer said last year, however, the real success of Peaky Blinders is the way in which it manages to suggest a mood – a way of being or thinking – that compels us to think about what it might be like to live in the aftermath of a wrenching, dislocating conflict like the Great War. Ex-soldiers waking in the middle of the night consumed with nightmarish visions of tunnels and death; bereaved parents seeking the consolations of spiritualists and charlatans; the tensions of lives lived constantly on the edge of violence; Bolsheviks and Irish republicans, telephones and motorcars. Rather than just ‘convincing’ period details, all of these convey a sense of unease and edginess – of the uncertainties of individual lives and social worlds thrown into crisis by four years of war.

Too many people have kicked off about the supposed anachronisms Peaky Blinders. For some, it seems, a contemporary soundtrack and stylized aesthetic are ‘fictions’ obscuring the ‘truth’ of the past. Yet it is often these anachronisms that allow the show to suggest a mood characteristic of the aftermath of war. The guitars and drums of the White Stripes, like Nick Cave’s atmospherically moody song Red Right Hand create a sense of dissonance and unease. So does the noise of the iron foundries, the flaring lights of the furnaces, and the vivid red of Birmingham’s Chinatown.

In the first episode of series two, Tommy, Arthur, and John find themselves in Darby Sabini’s opulent London nightclub. Confounded by the experience of the new, for a moment they are stunned into silence by the jarring sounds of a black jazz band, the sight of same- and opposite-sex couples kissing, dissonant noises and dislocating colours. Is this how London’s nightclubs looked in the early 1920s? It might be. But I don’t think it really matters. In capturing the disorientation of the Shelby brothers in this scene Peaky Blinders gives us we need to ask about the legacies of the Great War, and the nervous times of 1920s Britain.


Conservatives and the European Convention on Human Rights

From this week, Modern British Studies will be posting more regularly on the blog. This week our Director, Chris Moores, reflects on the Conservative Party’s new proposals for reforming human rights law within the UK.

Last week our city of Birmingham hosted the Conservative Party’s Conference. At this, both the Secretary of State for Justice and the Prime Minister argued that the Human Rights Act of 1998 needed to be ‘scrapped’ and suggested that the British do not require instruction on human rights from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Since then, the Conservative Party has published its proposals for changing human rights law in the UK.

Discussions of our rights should be of interest to anyone interested in Modern British Studies. Citizens’ rights and responsibilities, the balance between state and citizen and the relationship between the UK and transnational legal institutions, are all touched upon in the deliberations over the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Human Rights Act.

The proposals also contain a number of arguments of interest to historians. They explain that the ECHR was drafted to ensure that the ‘horrors of the 1940s’ would not be repeated. Accordingly, they suggest that the ECHR is ‘an entirely sensible statement about the principles which should underpin any modern democratic nation’, but these have been extended ‘beyond what the framers of the Convention had in mind when they signed up to it’.

Insofar as we can attempt to ‘learn lessons’ from the 1940s in any straightforward manner, as the proposals imply, these are clearly being chosen somewhat selectively. It does not take a hugely perceptive historian to point out that making human rights law applicable to a nation’s armed forces, a feature which the current proposals intend to remove, might be one of the clearer ‘lessons’ of the Second World War.

We should not, however, be too surprised at the political divisions surrounding human rights. For all of the universality of rights talk, its history has been deeply conditioned by politics. In the past, as with now, this has often been about working out which rights should be included or excluded in our human rights frameworks.

The ECHR was drafted by conservative lawyers, notably David Maxwell-Fyfe, working under the influence of various numerous non-governmental organizations promoting forms of ‘free enterprise’.[1] These influences ensured that the ECHR offered a very ‘liberal’ conceptualization of rights and underplayed the various ‘social democratic rights’ that were central to the making of the post-war European welfare states.

Excluded were many of the more expansive rights iterated within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the less well-known Sankey Declaration of Rights (1940) and H.G. Well’s The Rights of Man (1939) which excited certain sections of the British left during the late 1930s and 1940s.[2]

At various moments, the ECHR has been useful to Conservative politicians and activists. It was through the European Courts that the pressure group the Freedom Association managed one of its greatest achievements. By providing legal advice and a job for the British Rail worker, Roger Webster, who had been sacked for refusing to join a trade union, the Freedom Association used the European Courts to rule against aspects of the ‘closed shop’ practices of the trade union movement.

John Gouriet, the Freedom Association’s chief protagonist and a somewhat untypical human rights activist, saw this as part of his organization’s mission to ‘combat the advance of communo-socialism in the trade unions’.[3] As leader of the opposition, Mrs Thatcher also cited the ECHR to help explain her opposition to the ‘closed shop’ system.

John Gouriet and Jaguar – An untypical human rights activist?

John Gouriet and Jaguar – An untypical human rights activist?

The ECHR also had its uses for Conservative Governments. In 1980, Thatcher’s Government discussed whether the UK citizens should continue to have the right of appeal, eventually deciding in favour or continuing the right to appeal.

That decision owed more to pragmatism than idealism. First, it was feared that failure to renew would be an implicit admission that the Government was breaching the ECHR in Northern Ireland, which risked inflaming Republican or civil libertarian opposition.  Second, the country would ‘lose a tactical advantage in relations with Communist bloc and other countries’. Third, Britain risked isolation from other European countries.[4]

Obviously the situation in Northern Ireland has changed and global communism is no longer the threat to Western Governments that it once was, however, the issues of transparency, international reputation and the value of setting precedents for diplomatic reasons remain relevant today.

The eagerness to turn the clock back on the concept of human rights, stripping it back down to the standards outlined by Maxwell-Fyfe, runs counter to the history of the subject. This has often been as much a history of change as it has been of continuity.

Important rulings from the European Courts have touched on numerous issues that might not have been imagined by the ECHR’s framers – including the rights of UK citizens caught between new immigration laws and the nationalist policies of newly decolonized nations (Alam & Khan v UK), the rights of those subject to the practice of corporal punishment in schools (Tyrer v UK) or the rights of those wishing to decriminalize homosexuality (Dudgeon v UK).

Human rights issues associated with sexual identities, privacy in the age of the internet, or genetic integrity following scientific advances mobilize and engaged today’s human rights activists, but could not have been on the agenda in the 1940s. It would have required a deeply impressive feat of futurology on the part of Maxwell-Fyfe to anticipate such developments.

Designing a new ‘British Bill of Rights’ with the hope that human rights issues become less politically controversial is somewhat counterintuitive. Human rights became legally meaningful within the UK once citizens were given the right to individual petition to the European Court of Human Rights in 1967. Since then they have often been controversial.

Human rights law has tended to be most relevant to those operating on the boundaries of acceptability. Attempting to build human rights mechanisms that do not generate controversy, which fail to rule against ‘public opinion’, or which are unable to counter government policy, seems a rather pointless exercise.

[1]Marco Duranti, ‘Curbing Labour’s Totalitarian Temptation: European human rights law as a Conservative political project’, History and Policy, July 2013.

[2] Christopher Moores, ‘From Civil Liberties to Human Rights?: British Civil Liberties Activism and Universal Human Rights’, Contemporary European History, 21: 2 (2012).

[3] John Gouriet, ‘Foreword’ in Roger Webster, When Britain Waived the Rules… And sampled Anarchy (Sussex, 2000)

[4] Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, The National Archives, The National Archives, Cabinet Papers, CAB 129/210.