Hello. My name’s Tim, and I’ve decided to start a blog about the archives of the British Cabinet.
The Cabinet is the name given to the British Prime Minister and all his or her Secretaries of State when they are referred to collectively. As a group it meets regularly, and has been doing so since the reign of King George I. Currently it meets at 11am every Thursday morning when Parliament is in session.
The archives of what previous Cabinets have said and done are publicly available. They are full of fascinating insights about the problems governments of the past have faced and the decisions they have taken to address them. These include decisions to raise taxes, and to make certain activities legal or illegal, and, of course, and at alarmingly regular intervals, to go to war: just the kind of decisions that our own politicians continue to make in Cabinet today.
Quite literally, the minutes of Cabinet meetings represent the very first draft of the political history of our country, the United Kingdom. As such, they are rightly valued and indeed treasured by historians.
For the past couple of years, I have found myself using the Cabinet archives a lot. I am currently researching a book about British politics in the late 1910s and early 1920s, and the archives have proved an indispensable source. The book is about Britain’s relationship with Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. It tells the story of the Soviet government’s early attempts to undermine British capitalism and the British Empire – through a combination of espionage, propaganda and subversion – and of the British government’s actions in response.
The Cabinet archives have been immensely helpful to me in respect of this work. But they have also been a constant source of fun and enlightenment in other, more unexpected, ways, as I have browsed through (and frequently been distracted by) the huge range of issues on which they touch. Anyone is free to consult the Cabinet papers, either in person at the National Archives or online (LINK). But most people never will. I have determined to make at least some of the interesting things I am finding there public myself, in the conviction that others will find them interesting too.
To begin with I will focus mostly on the period I am looking at in my research. But gradually I hope to widen my horizons and share material from other periods too.
I really look forward to reading your thoughts about and reactions to the stuff I am going to post.
Welcome to Cabinet Room!