From debates to processes: trajectories of intelligence oversight in the UK

On 17 October 2019, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) handed their report on Russian interference into the British democracy to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The ISC is a bipartisan committee mandated by the British Parliament to oversee the British intelligence services – replacing discussions with formal parliamentary procedures.

Following significant delays to its release, the report saw the light of day only nine months later. As a result, questions regarding the ISC’s ability to fulfil its brief have begun to be asked more loudly. This has only been exacerbated by the failed installation of Chris Grayling MP to committee Chairmanship  . With members of the ISC being nominated and not elected, and with recent events exposing the limits of the committee’s independence, how effective are current procedures of democratic oversight on holding intelligence services and their ministers to account? And is a nominated committee truly more efficient than open parliamentary discussions?

The 1984 controversy surrounding union membership for Government Communication Head Quarters (GCHQ) employees generated the first substantial debates on intelligence services and democratic oversight in Parliament. To illustrate this point, that year  there were over three hundred mentions of GCHQ in Parliament; in all its previous history there had been just fourteen. The rest of the decade continued this trend with increased attention for the intelligence services by parliamentarians. Here, debates frequently turned  to questions of the politicisation of security as well as principles of parliamentary and collective democracy.

Of those debates, the 1985 Interception of Communications Bill is notable for opposing parliamentary sovereignty and royal prerogative – that is, those powers held under sovereign authority but exercised by the executive. The legislation, as asserted in the chamber by former Labour MP Tony Benn, expanded the executive’s ability to deploy surveillance such that it undermined ‘parliamentary democracy.’ He argued that those executive justifications for wiretapping on the grounds of ‘national security’ stripped parliament of its central purpose of discussing and deciding national interests, especially its capacity to determine British security interests.  Benn’s assertion, that ‘security in Britain is controlled by the Prime Minister,’ seems to therefore echo the thought of later academic work regarding the instrumentalization of security  which, despite recent controversies over increasing surveillance through use of prerogative powers in line with Coronavirus measures, receives little mention in contemporary Parliaments.

Two years later, the 1987 House of Commons (services) debate, regarding the Speaker of the House’s decision to suspend Ronan Bennett’s parliamentary pass also centralises themes of security versus parliamentary democracy. Employed as a researcher for then backbencher Jeremy Corbyn, Bennett had been previously linked to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and had been convicted for the murder of a police officer – though this was overturned a year later. The decision to rescind his access was justified by advice received from the security services that Bennett was a ‘security risk,’ an accusation that quickly found its way into the media.                                                                 

The foremost issue that MPs took with this incident, other than asserting that it subverted their right to hire as they please, was that the Speaker had not questioned the reasoning for this advice and that the recommendation was not a matter of public record. As such, neither the accused, his employer, the House services committee, nor the issuer of the ban knew the justification for the advice to exclude Bennett. This led backbench MPs to articulate a broader critique of undefined ‘security risks’ as instruments used to claim authority and to construct boundaries to debate, all whilst avoiding transparency. Tony Benn in this debate raised such limits on open debate in order to critique what he saw as executive overreach, saying that ‘Members of Parliament are in danger of being licensed only to discuss what Ministers want them to discuss.’ Whilst Benn’s words again stand out for what Conservative MP John Biffen called his ‘characteristic zeal,’ upon looking at the debate in full its apparent that references to themes of democratic oversight and its tensions with security were habitual touchstones for this cohort of parliamentarians.

These two accounts highlight that amongst initial debates on the intelligence services, the problematisation of security and liberty, as well as contestations over principles of parliamentary sovereignty, were apparent. This stands in contrast to the belief that these themes are unique to our current moment or else only emerged following 9/11, the so-called “migrant crisis”, or the Snowden revelations. Indeed, these subjects which were evident in the 1980s persisted in parliament into the early 1990s, accumulating momentum such that the government was pressured to establish the ISC. With the creation of the committee, however, direct debates on the intelligence services have become limited to the yearly presentation of the ISC’s report or else to issues with a high public profile. Accompanying this drop in frequency has been a shift away from discussing the politicisation of security and principles of democracy. In their place, there has been a movement towards reflexively supporting intelligence activities and an increasing emphasis on vesting authority in procedures and professionalised bodies.

Whilst this shift has been gradual since 1994 a key case which illustrates a change is the 2013 debate regarding the operations of GCHQ. Held in the wake of revelations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was operating illegalmass surveillance, the debate saw then Foreign Secretary William Hague address questions regarding active GCHQ-NSA cooperation and whether comparative GCHQ initiatives existed.Hague opened the debate by outlining what he saw as the three main issues raised by the controversy, these therefore can inform our reflections on how government positioning has adapted to the existence of the ISC.                       

Firstly, in describing ‘the action that the Government are taking in response to recent events’ the Foreign Secretary solely refers to the ISC. Saying that, they have ‘already received some information from GCHQ and will receive a full report tomorrow,’ and additionally that they ‘will be free to decide what, if any further action’ to take. His response here, barely longer than the included extracts is telling for two reasons. Centrally, Hague seems to equate action by the government with action by the committee or else he seeks to derive legitimacy from the committees presumed authority as a parliamentary body exerting oversight. Secondly, by sidestepping a commitment to substantive action by deferring to potential ISC scrutiny the foreign minister is pushing the discussion far into the future. Any ‘further action’ the committee could take would necessitate a long report process with the possibility of executive delay in publication.                                                     

The second issue raised by Hague, regards how intelligence services work ‘in accordance with UK law’ and democracy. His justification here being that agencies operate under 1994 and 2000 legislation and are therefore legitimate in their actions. Regardless of the flawed assumption that law is necessarily good, which tellingly was not challenged by other debate participants, his point is undermined by his own government’s 2013 Justice and Security Act, which imposed greater restrictions, later that year.                                                                                                     

Lastly, the Secretary’s third issue relates to how the law is upheld in international intelligence cooperation, which he acknowledges is regular between the NSA and GCHQ. He quickly outlines again that legislation alongside oversight by ministers and the ISC ensures adherence to the law, however in contrast to speakers in the 1980s, who might have interrogated the underlying rationalities for these agencies, Hague instead advocates for them through the prism of threat. In doing so he invokes physical and economic security, without a single mention of the preservation of life or democracy. As such, he displays an instrumentalisation of the authority the ISC is supposedly vested with as a scrutinising body, alongside an unreflexive prioritisation of the actions of the intelligence services.

Besides Hague’s statements what is also telling about this debate is what is excluded from the responses and questions to him. Of the forty-one MPs who spoke not one mentioned the word “democracy” nor “rights,” and of the three mentions of “liberty” two came as part of an exchange citing the paradox of Snowden’s invocation of the ideal from within the People’s Republic of China.

The final mention of ‘liberties’ came from former Conservative MP Rory Stewart wherein he urged Hague to focus not on the ‘legal problem’ of secret operations but instead on their repercussions for ‘balancing security and liberty.’ In what constitutes the only Benn-like elevation of the debate, Stewart went on to emphasise that the continuation of these operations relies on an informed public, who ‘through understanding, consent.’ Hague’s response to this assertionwas to offer agreement that the public should be engaged, though he hedged this commitment with a call-back to the greater importance of secrecy as a  guarantor of our security and the cooperation of our intelligence partners.

What is shown through these three debates is that there is no linear development of accountability for the intelligence services. Whilst the ISC provides a mechanism through which a select number of parliamentarians can access information the state has made secret; it has guaranteed neither substantive change in the powers afforded to Parliament nor multifaceted and nuanced debate. Moreover, the committee’s procedures provide ample excuses for governments to deflect or delay, as we have observed with the Russia report, and its annual sessions in parliament often do not receive great consideration. Whilst the executive retains the power of appointment and the ISC’s ability to launch formal investigations is limited, its capacity to achieve significant accountability is narrow.

This article was written as part of the King’s Undergraduate Research fellowship held in the context of the GUARDINT project, which is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Joseph Jarnecki is a MA International Conflict Studies student at King’s College London and the Coordinating Editor for Strife blog. His research interests include the politics of knowledge production, the proceduralisation of democratic accountability, as well as violence and (in)security. He completed his BA in International Relations at King’s. You can follow him @Jarnecki.

From Reimagining Communities to Communities Reimagining

By Laura Zuber

It is the 13th of April 2021 and the the call for writing a blog article on ‘Reimagining Communities’ for this year’s Security Studies conference reaches me in a vulnerable moment in my research process: six months into the PhD, I made the decision to change topic. Roughly, my original plan consisted of comparing the UK’s crisis management during Covid-19 and the Second World War. Naturally, the question I would receive from many a person coming across my research would be: “Why these two?” Concretely, “What is your understanding of crisis that made you come up with comparing these two completely different phenomena?” The truth is, although I was mostly able to provide a satisfactory answer to those asking, I had to quietly confess that I was not able to provide a satisfactory answer to myself, to the point that the molehill became a mountain that blocked from my sight the further path of the project. 

A thought-provoking question. What do I mean by ‘crisis’? What does ‘crisis’ mean in general? This question came accompanied by a latent sense of shame, given that the word was prominently featured in my project title. Adding to this feeling, I did what most of us on the privileged side of the digital divide do in moments of fundamental ontological questionings of the world around us: I googled. Eventually, after hours of research, browsing through academic and various other sources, I still did not exactly know what, when and how a ‘crisis’ is, but I knew one thing: that it is tricky to figure out for others, too. 

Thereby, we encounter this notion in every other news article, attached to words such as health, climate, migration, food, housing, or the economy. Does the meaning of ‘crisis’ impose itself so naturally? “That, now that one is a sound crisis! No no, that one, not the other, the other one is just a huge problem.” Or is its inflationary use rather a matter of quantity than quality? “Hah, we simply have too many of them, there you go, Ma’am, catch!”

Even though the latter might be sadly true, I would like to reflect on the first aspect, specifically on the political implications of using this notion unquestioningly. My aim is not to advocate for a narrow definition of the word – on the contrary. Rather, I would like to invite the reader to a broader reflection on the dangers and potentials of handling a remarkably adaptable and ontologically hollow notion such as ‘crisis’; an excercise that might prove useful for the next time we stumble across this little word in the newspaper. 

To do this, I need to offer an outline of a much lesser known crisis phenomenon: Coming from feminist theory, my current research explores what is known, whithin feminist scholarship, as the crisis of reproduction. (Yes, that suspicious word again!) That is the increasing difficulty to engage in physical, mental, and emotional life-making and -sustaining activities within the microcosm of the everydays; from cooking, eating, sleeping, accessing potable water, to teaching, and giving and receiving care and love – activities that sustain ourselves and the extended community and kinship ties around us. According to Marxist and socialist feminists, the ultimate goal of these reproductive activities is to renew, day-to-day and generationally, the labour power we need to sell on the market to gain access to the finacial means to – again – reproduce ourselves and the capitalist modality. Life-making for profit-making. If this is part of the deal, why is the reproductive sphere in crisis, then? Ought it not be the most secure of all? 

Seen through a critical lens, capitalism, especially in its neoliberalised form, reveals itself as a cosmology, a value-system that acts with a parasitic, that is an expansive and extractive relationality on those within its reach, with the goal of infinite accumulation of profit. This extractive relationality furthermore has an explicitely colonial and heteronormative patriarchal quality, which shines light on why the global reproductive sphere is disproportionally made up by precarious Women and people of Colour – as opposed to the primary beneficiaries of this system. In order to sustain itself, capitalism then needs to extract more and more – theoretically infinitely more – from human (and other-than-human) regenerative life-forces that are by nature finite. Capitalism’s progressive eating itself through finite life-forces – unevenly across lines of inequality – is increasingly palpable even in Western heteronormative societies. And suddenly, the crisis of reproduction is everywhere and nowehere. 

The crisis of reproduction is everywhere, because it hides at the core of many of the crises we read and hear about in many a news article, talk and conference: the crises of climate, migration, debt, food or housing, not to speak of the manifold struggles brought about by the pandemic. The crisis of reproduction is seen nowhere, because the reproductive sphere and its racialised, gendered and precarious demography is produced as invisible. Because acknowledging the global reproductive crisis would mean declaring a (‘a’ – not ‘in’) crisis the current political-economic order, including the very colonial and heteronormative patriarchal relationships it is built upon and that permeate and uphold the insititutional grid of society. It would mean declaring a crisis competitive, hierarchical and cumulative systems of power and the way we organise life in them. It would mean for society to enter into a state of ontological insecurity.  

Turns out, the question what is deemed to be a crisis is not a trivial one. The way this word is filled with meaning has a strategic function for the ontological security of societal and global structures protecting capitalist – including colonial and patriarchal – modalities. It is also of utmost importance for the livelihood of everyone living in and with them day-by-day. The question what a crisis is and the dominant value-system in which this question is subsequently interpreted have concrete political implications as to which life-threatening situations will be problematised or normalised, and thus whose lives will be protected or sacrificed. Moreover, the question of who is ontologically constructed as being, and the subsequent affirmation of who is valued in the dominant value-system, will have concrete political implications as to when a situation is declared or taken seriously as a crisis; depending on whose lives are in danger.

“But during the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a revaluation of (white and Western) women’s reproductive activities, how does that fit in?”, some might wonder. While we cannot know with certainty what this revaluation might bring, feminist scholar Smriti Rao offers a rather disheartening outlook:

The terrible pandemic sweeping the globe caused capitalist accumulation to be temporarily suspended in order to address the threat to the production and maintenance of life posed by the virus. One could sense the impatience generated by this unprecedented move in an economic system that is designed to reverse that order of priorities. The suspension did not last long, precisely because of how poorly it fits our current political economy. From a feminist political economy perspective, this is a further reminder of the fundamental contradiction between a capitalist system that prioritizes profits, and a feminist ethic that prioritizes life-making or social reproduction. (Rao, 2021, p.18)

With this background, what should we reimagine communities for, given that they are the primary site of reproduction, whose struggle seems to be a lost case? To try to reproduce our labour-power better, until the ‘dragon’, as Audre Lorde named it, eventually devours itself and us? 

If the community in capitalist societies is, as Silvia Federici explains, essentially an assembly line that (re)produces workers and labour-power, then reimagining communities would mean: reimagining communities that produce something beyond that. The world we live in is materialised cosmology – it is nothing but materialised cosmology. Before we feed any Lorde’ian dragon with our labour power, we must feed that dragon with our collective belief  in it. Collective belief is the true source of ontological security. 

The micro-level of community, then, is the primordial site where the conditions of possibility for the world we live in – in all its ontological, structural and cultural facets – is produced. This is what ‘reproductive activities’ ultimately are about: they are world-making activities that set the stage for any cosmology to materially unfold.  Understanding the community as a site of world-creation shines light on why capital accumulation happens through a regime “in which all life forms are severed from the interdependence that nurtures life-making” (Hennessy, 2020, p. 5): severed, dismembered and alienated (or simply absent) communities cannot realise their full life-making, meaning world-making potential beyond the mere reproduction of labour power. The ontological threat is minimised. The community is stripped from its creative power that is free to be transfered to privileged political, economic and financial elites sitting on top of often violent hierarchies. These then appear as the only legitimate agents to endow such crucial notions as ‘crisis’ with meaning. Can we reimagine communities that are able to realise their full hidden potential? 

An investigation into the etymology of the word ‘solidarity’ reveals that the french word solidarité designates a community of mutual responsibility, and itself stems from the words solidaire, meaning ‘interdependent’ and solide, meaning ‘solid’. Can solidarity be the key to restore solid and interdependent community ties? If yes, solidarity and interdependence need to be based on a sense of mutual responsibility – not on coercive or exploitative relationships. As decolonial philosopher Enrique Dussel tells us, respect and responsibility for the Other is a precondition for reimagining and remaking: “it is an almost metaphysical activity. […] It is the metaphysical anteriority of the new or future order. It is anteriority to ontological openness to the world; it makes it possible; it is its real a priori” (1985, p. 60, italics in original). Solidarity, interdependence and mutual responsibility are reflections of each other. Reimagining communities as sites of rooted and actualised solidarity is the precondition for them to engage in the task that is theirs only: to reimagine a world – or worlds – we want to live in. Perhaps it is due to the crisis of reproduction that images of these worlds-that-could-be are haunting so many of us. I see the call for reimagining communities as the call for cultivating solid ‘haunting grounds’ for them. 

And here I am asking you, the reader of these lines: How do you feel? If everything and nothing can be a crisis, then what do you think is one? When did you have your last chat on ‘God and the world’, your pain, hopes and anger within a safe and nurturing community setting? Where do you wish for more of these settings, maybe in institutional and work contexts where ‘they do not belong’? Why don’t they belong? What could be done to challenge that? You don’t have time and energy for that? Why, where do they go? What is making you sick? What could be done to challenge that?

Reimagining communities is a security issue. In a crisis-ridden and self-devouring world, the community offers security of the most meaningful kind. Especially Indigenous, Black and postcolonial knowledges speak of this reality. 

For my part, I wish that one day, when we are haunted by fundamental ontological questionings of the world around us, instead of turning to google, we can turn to healthy, thriving, nurturing and sustainable communities for the knowledge and strenght to provide ourselves with aswers. And in case I should be  deemed mad for harbouring such heretic thoughts, I leave here the words of Black domestic servant Hanna Nelson: “I have grown to womanhood in a world where the saner you are, the madder you are made to appear.”

Laura Zuber (she/her) is a doctoral researcher at the War Studies Department of King’s College London. Her thesis explores the interrelation between the neoliberal crisis philosophy and the global crisis of reproduction. She furthermore researches into alternative philosophies and approaches to the governance of the reproductive sphere and its crises coming from social justice collectives. 

This blog entry excerpts ideas and phrases from an unpublished doctoral thesis; please do reach out to the author via if you wish to reproduce or cite.


Beier, F. (2018). Marxist Perspectives on the Global Enclosures of Social Reproduction. TripleC16(2), 546–561.

Bhattacharya, T. (2017). What is Social Reproduction Theory? Retrieved May 03, 2021 from

Bhattacharya, T., & Vogel, L. (eds.) (2017). Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression. London: Pluto Press.

Dussel, E. D. (1985). Philosophy of Liberation. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.

Federici, S., & Jones, C. (2020). Silvia Federici and Campbell Jones: Counterplanning in the Crisis of Social Reproduction. South Atlantic Quarterly199(1), 153–165.

Fraser, N. (2014). Behind Marx’s Hidden Abode: For an Expanded Conception of Capitalism. New Left Review, (86), 55–72.

Fraser, N. (2016). Contradictions of Capital and Care. New Left Review, (100), 99–117.

Grosfoguel, R. (2014). Epistemic Racism/Sexism, Westernized Universities and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long 16th Century. Tabula Rasa19, 31–58.

Gunn Allen, P. (1986). Who is Your Mother? Red Roots of White Feminism. Retrieved February 17, 2021 from

Harman, S. (2021). Threat not Solution: Gender, Global Health Security and Covid-19. International Affairs00(0), 1–23.

Hennessy, R. (2020). Toward an Ecology of Life-making: The Re-membering of Meridel Le Sueur. CLCWeb: Comparative Literature And Culture22(2).

hooks, b. (1984). Feminist Theory from Margin to Center. Boston, MA: South End Press.

Lorde, A. (2007). Sister outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley, Calif.: Crossing Press.

Lugones, M. (2010). Toward a Decolonial Feminism. Hypatia25(4), 742–759.

Maldonado-Torres, N. (2007). On the Coloniality of Being: Contributions to the Development of a Concept. Cultural Studies21(2–3), 240–270.

Moore, J. W. (2015). Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London: Verso.

Online Etymology Dictionary. Solidarity. Retrieved May 03, 2021 from

Rao, S. (2021). Beyond the Coronavirus: Understanding Crises of Social Reproduction. Global Labour Journal12(1).

Sauer, B., & Wöhl, S. (2011). Feminist Perspectives on the Internationalization of the State. Antipode43(1), 108–128.

For the quote by Hanna Nelson see Nakano Glenn, E. (1992). From Servitude to Service Work. Historical Continuities in the Racial Division of Paid Reproductive Labor. Signs18(1), 1–43.

Intelligence and Oversight in British Parliamentary Records

by Jan Camenzind Broomby

For the purposes of my King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship I assisted both Professor Claudia Aradau (KCL War Studies) and Professor Tobias Blanke (KCL Digital Humanities) in their research on intelligence and oversight in the UK parliamentary archives, with a focus on how questions of accountability and scrutiny have been raised in regard to the British intelligence activities. I was primarily tasked with cleaning the data that had been compiled thus far and conducting archival research to ensure that said data was relevant and correct. This involved harmonising the names of entities (the data that had been collected previously) under new names, discarding irrelevant entities, adding latitudes/longitudes for entities that referred to locations, and Wikipedia articles for entities that referred to events. This blog will discuss the methodology I adopted during my work and for the sake of clarity I have split this into several segments, each of which outlines a challenge that I encountered, and a solution I developed thereto. 

How to begin?

I began by working on cleaning the data in the smallest Excel file that had been sent to me. This ensured that any mistakes I might make would be contained to a smaller, more manageable Excel file and would thus be easier to rectify. It also ensured that the task appeared less daunting and enabled me to get to grips with what I was doing without being overwhelmed. From the sheer size of the data that I was dealing with, I knew that I would have to automate a portion of the work in order to ensure that I was able to work as efficiently as possible. I therefore began looking into the different Excel commands that might be of benefit to me and discovered that the IFS command could be used to automatically fill cells with the harmonised names that I had chosen. Using this command, I set about populating the ‘Harmonised’ column with the harmonised names for each entity. Having done this I wrote another IFS command that filled another column with relevant Wikipedia articles depending on the harmonised name that the article was to refer to. Given the small size of this document I was able to write an IFS command that included all unique entities. This sped the progress of work up considerably.

World War or Wars?

One issue I stumbled across early on was the decision of how to harmonise certain entities. This problem was particularly prevalent when I came across several entities that referred generally to ‘World Wars’. Unsure of what to do, I emailed my supervisors and was advised that I could either harmonise this entity under a ‘World Wars’ name or create two separate rows for both World War I & II. Having realised that there was no Wikipedia article for ‘World Wars’, and that whenever a speech referenced ‘World Wars’, they also referred to World War I & II separately, I decided I would create new entries for both World War I & II whenever I came across the entity ‘World Wars’. I adopted the same solution for any other such issues I encountered, searching first to see whether a relevant Wikipedia article could be found, and secondly determining whether the entity could be split into smaller sub-events.

Automating Efficiently?

Having finished the file that focused on events, I moved onto the file that dealt with locations. I noted that this file was far larger and would therefore require more automation to finish. I gave a cursory glance to the whole dataset and noted down which entities seemed to be cropping up the most. I took this list and, using the IFS command, automated the harmonisation of these entities. While this was a step in the right direction, I nevertheless noticed that there were several entities that came up frequently that I had failed to make note of when I first looked through the document, these therefore had to be harmonised manually which took longer than it otherwise might have done. 

Constituency or location?

The next issue I ran into was that a large portion of the locations that were included as entities were actually references to members of Parliament (who are often referred to by their constituency, rather than their names). These were unwanted as they generally did not refer to relevant locations, however the difficulty was that I could not be sure whether or not to discard the entity without checking each one within the Hansard archive.

I noticed also that the algorithm, when making reference to an MP, would often include their City, followed by one of the four cardinal compass directions (North, East, South, or West). The honourable member for Sunderland, South was, for example, often represented on the Excel sheet with one ‘Sunderland’ entity, and one ‘South’ entity following it. Given that there was a low chance that the South of Sunderland would be relevant to a GCHQ debate, and given that people colloquially tend to refer to areas with the compass direction first (one might say ‘the South of Sunderland’), rather than afterwards (one would not say ‘Sunderland, South’), I could thus remove pairs of entities that I knew followed this pattern of town, cardinal direction. 

To read or not to read? 

I then set about manually cleaning the remaining data but happened upon a further problem. When I went to check the Hansard archives to determine what was being referred to in the entities, I was often confronted with hundreds of different mentions of the entity. The entity might for example be listed as ‘West’ but upon searching within the Hansard archive I would find that ‘West’ had been referred to in the context of West Berlin, West Germany, The West, West Wales etc. and I could never be sure which of these ‘West’s was the one that should be recorded. The issue was that I had been checking the whole Hansard archive of each date, which meant that far more irrelevant results showed up.

I emailed my supervisors and they explained that the programme that had been used to extract entities from the Hansard archive material had only looked for locations, events and organisations in speeches that mentioned GCHQ, as well as 2/3 speeches before and after. This meant that I did not have to look through the entire Hansard archive. My supervisors also sent me a new filed named ‘gchq_speeches’. This massively sped up the process of manually checking entities as it allowed me to search within the gchq_speeches file, rather than searching on the Hansard archives website.

Final Automation:

I finally moved on to the second location file. This was much larger than the two files I had been working on so far. It thus required more automation to ensure that I could get the work done on time. I knew that it made sense to automate the harmonisation of entities that appeared most frequently, but I had yet to figure out how I could determine which entities appeared the most. While I could have used Excel’s COUNTIF function, this would have involved me manually inputting each unique entity to see how many times it appeared and would thus not have saved me as much time. 

I decided instead to use an online word occurrence tool. I quickly realised, however, that this tool counted each word separately. This caused an issue as many of the entities in my Excel file contained multiple words within one cell. I therefore found a different tool that would allow me to remove the spaces between the words in each cell. I could then take the output from the space removal tool and input that to the word frequency tool, which generated a list of the entities that most frequently came up in the file. 

This list of the most frequent words allowed me to automate the harmonisation of entities using the IFS command in Excel more efficiently than I had been doing before. I still, however, was limited by the fact that Excel only allows 125 tests within one excel command in a cell. This meant that I was only able to automate the first 125 unique entities. However, this was by far the most efficient way of cleaning the data, and it enabled me to sort through over 5,000 data points considerably faster than I otherwise would have done.


As is evident from this piece it took me several iterations and adaptions to reach a point where I was satisfied with my workflow. However, having finished my undergraduate fellowship, I am aware that there are still numerous areas that could still be improved upon. I suppose that there are several things I have learned from this experience. It has borne testament to the value of trial and error, persistence, and to the fact that, as my supervisor Professor Blanke pointed out to me, ‘most knowledge is serendipitous in its origins to a degree’. Challenges should thus not be seen as an immovable obstacle, but as an opportunity to learn, and adapting and overcoming these challenges is an important part of learning and of the research process. 

This article was written as part of the King’s Undergraduate Research fellowship held in the context of the GUARDINT project, which is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.