‘Home Office’ sounds rather comfortable – ‘homely’, ‘friendly’, ‘family’. Abroad the equivalent is usually called a ‘Ministry of the Interior’, or some such. That gives off quite different vibes, more suited to police states. Which is what the UK, in its ‘home’ policies, may be gravitating towards.
It probably pre-dates her; but ever since Theresa May’s time as Secretary of State the Home Office has gone out of its way to seem strikingly less ‘home-like’ – harder, a more ‘hostile environment’, less welcoming, less liberal and more unforgiving – than ever before. This is especially true in relation to foreigners; and even towards those of its own legitimate citizens who can’t cope with the obstacle course it puts in their way before it will recognise their legitimacy (q.v. the Windrush scandal). It is also becoming notorious for its rank inefficiency: ‘losing’ its supplicants’ important papers, for example. (See https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/may/31/vital-immigration-papers-lost-by-uk-home-office.) And Theresa claims it is still unable to find one big file that was deposited with her a few years ago, containing evidence of alleged paedophile activities by MPs and other bigwigs in the past. Oh dear. You’d have thought that was something they would have taken good care of, wouldn’t you? Or perhaps they did. Is that the problem? Another nasty 1970s scandal – there were plenty of them – brushed under the carpet.
I worked there once, on some late nineteenth century documents they thought weren’t safe to pass on to the Public Record Office – papers to do with foreign refugees, as it happens. I had to sign the Official Secrets Act, and to have the HO vet everything I published that was based on those papers. The OSA covered anything I learned or did in the Home Office, quite apart from the documents I consulted. Anything. I joked to my students that I was breaking the law by telling them how much a plate of plaice and chips cost in the Home Office canteen. That was technically the case. Indeed, I may even be transgressing the Act here by revealing that I signed it there.
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