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Before the Wars

Churchill as Reformer (1910 – 1911)- With a Foreword by Sir Martin Gilbert


Alan Baxendale

Winston Churchill will be forever known as the great statesman who bravely led Britain through the war years, but what led the young Churchill down this path to greatness? What motivated him to become the future leader?
Delving into documentary records in the Home Office archive, Alan S. Baxendale brings to light the young Churchill’s war at home while Home Secretary from February 1910 to October 1911. Passionate about reforming prison treatment and sentencing, Churchill engaged with his senior Home Office staff and His Majesty’s Prison Commissioners in a daily discussion of the business of criminal justice. With a focus on his working methods and relationships with his staff, Baxendale offers a new look at Churchill as a young and talented politician whose leadership led to innovative reforms that are still influential today.
This book makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the criminal justice system, providing a crucial addition to our understanding of the history of prison reform. It also gives us valuable insight into Churchill as a person, shedding light on his formative years as a minister and providing us with important clues to how he became one of the most successful politicians of modern times.


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Chapter 2: The Home Office and the Prison Commission: Dramatis Personae 9


chapter 2 The Home Office and the Prison Commission: Dramatis Personae 1910 Winston Churchill’s thinking about prison treatment and sentences evolved and crystallized gradually in the course of his exchanges with senior Home Office staff and the Prison Commissioners. These exchanges reflect the deep concern which the staff of both institutions felt for the maintenance of traditional policies and precedents, and their reluctance to countenance change. Thus Home Secretaries who wished to initiate change found them- selves confronted with a hard row to hoe. Herbert Gladstone, an older man than Churchill when he arrived at the Home Office and more experienced in the management of staff, had succeeded through persuasion.1 This took time, five years in total, but he was a patient man. Churchill, on the other hand, was young, ambitious and keen to make a substantial name for him- self rapidly. He feared he might not be in office long enough to achieve his ambition because of the political vagaries of the time.2 He demanded instant action by his staff and had no compunction in adopting an auto- cratic stance when it suited his purposes. His senior officials and Prison Commissioners, accustomed to the gentlemanly management of Gladstone, found Churchill’s style little to their liking. They had been accustomed to advising their minister but now found themselves being advised – and directed – by him. Thus their relationship with Churchill was occasionally uncertain or fractious. Indeed, this situation may well have contributed to the dissolution of the relationship towards the end...

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