Red Clydeside: A history of the labour movement in Glasgow 1910-1932


Letter from Lord Edmund Talbot MP and Capt F.E. Guest MP to Lord Weir, 19 Aug 1919

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The fear and suspicion within the British political establishment of a Bolshevik inspired revolution on British soil was widespread from 1916 onwards. William Weir, with his upper middle-class background and his experience as a major employer and as a Government minister, was to prove himself a willing and able participant in the propaganda battle to prevent the growing influence of Left-wing political ideology and trade union strength in this period.

In this battle the British political establishment would ensure its victory by employing the services of MI5 and other counter-insurgency organisations of the state. In the lead up the First World War MI5 had begun to compile an Alien Register" of all foreigners in Britain and by 1914 it had details of 16,000 people on its files. This massive information bank on suspected Alien threats became known as 'The Registry' and employed a staff of 170 postal censors to open foreign mail.

By 1919 staff numbers had swollen to 5,000 and the MI5 Registry had files on 137,500 individuals, not only foreigners but also British citizens who had come under suspicion as "political subversives" because of their involvement in trade union organisation and within left-wing political groups. Individual peace campaigners who had been involved in campaigning for peace negotiations during World War I were also numerous amongst the files of MI5.