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Updated Catalogue: Conservative Central Office – Publicity/Communications Department

The Archive of the Conservative Party is pleased to announce the arrival of its expanded catalogue of the Conservative Central Office Publicity Department. Known variously as the Publicity Department, Communications Department, Press and Communications Department, and the Department of Political Operations, this department has been responsible for the production and dissemination of the Party’s publicity material and propaganda, as well as facilitating relations with the media, since the 1920s. This important collection has more than doubled in size following the addition of over 90 boxes of material, providing a unique insight into the Party’s approach to publicity and communications over time. The expanded collection includes the papers and correspondence of several Directors of Publicity, planning files relating to television and radio broadcasting, and the logistics behind decades of election campaigns and Party Conferences.

A significant portion of this new material relates to, or was kindly donated by, Harvey Thomas (1939-2022), Director of Press and Communications from 1985-1986 and Director of Presentation and Promotion from 1986-1991. Thomas also played a valuable role as a political advisor to the Party, particularly contributing towards Margaret Thatcher’s publicity and campaigning strategy. Many of his papers can be found in files covering Party Conferences and events, the organisation of which he was heavily involved in throughout the 1980s.

Campaigning and publicity

Much of the newly available material in this collection relates to the Party’s campaigning and publicity, whether material created for specific general elections, by-elections, and European elections, or for general publicity and marketing, often involving the input of external advertising and branding agencies. These files include details of poster campaigns, campaign tour programmes and schedules, and draft publication designs.

Whilst the majority of the new files date from the late 20th century, a couple of interesting publicity guides from the 1950s (CPA CCO 600/25/1) and 1970s (CPA CCO 600/25/2) are included in the expanded collection. The former, a scrapbook containing examples of election literature primarily created during the 1955 General Election, sought to provide a reference guide to propaganda techniques to help those creating such publicity material in the future. It contains dozens of examples of election addresses, broadsheets, leaflets, and posters, each with annotations explaining what they had done well and suggesting areas for improvement. Below is an example of an election address from Ronald Watson, candidate for Newark in both the 1951 and 1955 General Elections, with accompanying praise for its ‘enterprising’ photograph montage and ‘lively and interesting’ centre pages (CPA CCO 600/25/1).

Election Material and Techniques, 1955 – CPA CCO 600/25/1.

In addition to the distribution of impactful physical literature, successful campaign tours and television and radio appearances have long been deemed essential contributors to election victory. Several newly available files detail the tours and visits undertaken by Margaret Thatcher during election campaigns, demonstrating the detailed planning these involved. The pages below, included in a preparation file for the 1983 General Election, are a good example of this. The left page contains a list of the publicity material created in the lead-up to the election, including ‘Maggie In’ car stickers and ‘10 Reasons for Not Voting Labour’ leaflets, whilst that on the right shows a draft outline programme for a ‘sample day’ for Thatcher touring away from London, detailing an extremely long day of meetings, interviews, rallies, and travel. Such files provide a great insight into the behind-the-scenes effort behind these campaigns.

1983 General Election preparations – CPA CCO 600/14/51.

Party Political Broadcasts

Also included in the newly available material are the annotated scripts, planning papers, and correspondence behind many Conservative Party Political Broadcasts (PPBs). These files illustrate the thought-processes behind the creation of these key forms of publicity, particularly the development of various iterations and drafts over time. The image below shows a ‘final final’ draft of a PPB from November 1985. This was set in a courtroom, the Government on trial for ‘making serious cuts in everything this country holds dear’ (CPA CCO 600/3/10/17). The broadcast contains admissions to numerous ‘cuts’ carried out by the Tories, including cutting income tax, inflation, and hospital waiting lists. In order to have maximum impact this was accompanied by a widespread distribution of leaflets and poster displays pushing the same message: only positive cuts had been made by this Government. Creative ideas like these were clearly deemed necessary to continue to catch the audience’s attention.

Party Political Broadcast 20/11/1985 script – CPA CCO 600/3/10/17.

All the material featured in this blog post, alongside the full updated collection of the Conservative Central Office Publicity/Communications Department, is now available to consult at the Weston Library. To browse the online catalogue, visit Collection: Conservative Party Archive: Conservative Central Office – Publicity/Communications Department | Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts (ox.ac.uk)

New Archive of the Conservative Party releases for 2024

Each January the Archive of the Conservative Party releases files which were previously closed under the 30-year rule. This year, files from 1993 are newly-available to access.

Despite the recession of the previous couple of years coming to an end, John Major’s third year as Prime Minister was dominated by internal Party conflict over Europe and low public popularity, manifesting in two significant by-election defeats. These issues are amongst those covered within the newly-released files for 2024, alongside subject files and briefs from Conservative Research Department (CRD), material of the Young Conservatives and Conservative student organisations, and correspondence and subject files of Conservatives in the European Parliament. This blog post will highlight some of the material included in this year’s newly-available files, with a full list linked at the end.

Europe and the Maastricht Treaty

In early 1992, European leaders signed the Maastricht Treaty to bring greater unity and integration between the countries of the European Economic Committee, creating the European Union. The Treaty officially became effective on 1 November 1993 once each county had ratified it, following referendums in Denmark, France, and Ireland. Whilst no referendum was held in the UK, the Maastricht Treaty did bring divisions to Parliament, especially the Conservative Party. A small number of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs voted with the opposition, who opposed the decision to opt out of the ‘Social Chapter’ rather than the Treaty itself, against ratification. Combined, these MPs were able to defeat the implementation of the Treaty in a series of votes due to the small Conservative majority at the time. Whilst Tory rebels failed in their campaign for a referendum, and Parliament did eventually ratify the Treaty, this happened only after John Major called a confidence motion in his own government. The issue of Europe, and the internal divisions it caused, undoubtedly defined Major’s early years as Prime Minister.

Many of this year’s newly-released files offer an insight into the way the Conservative Party viewed and approached the issue of the Maastricht Treaty, especially the debate over whether to hold a referendum. These can be found primarily in the collections of Conservatives in the European Parliament, CCO 508, and Conservative Overseas Bureau/International Office, COB. The image below shows two documents relating to the question of a referendum. The House of Commons Library Research Paper (left) provides details on the background to the Treaty and the arguments on either side of the debate, whilst the CRD brief of May 1993 (right) lists arguments against a referendum. These include the fact that the House of Commons had firmly defeated a vote on the issue, and that a well-publicised telephone referendum, ‘Dial for Democracy’, had received a poor turnout, suggesting limited public interest in the Treaty.

Maastricht Treaty: The Referendum Campaign – CPA COB/8/5/7, Folder 2.

Newbury and Christchurch by-elections

Internal Party divisions over Europe, alongside slow economic recovery, resulted in the Conservative Party suffering a couple of significant by-election defeats in 1993. The Party lost two seats, Newbury and Christchurch, which they had won by substantial majorities in the 1992 General Election. The Newbury by-election, held on 6 May, saw a swing of 28.4% to the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative Party losing this seat for the first time since 1923. Only two months later, the Christchurch by-election of 29 July saw an even higher swing of 35.4% to the Liberal Democrats.

This year’s newly-available files contain much material relating to these by-elections, including detailed constituency profiles, briefings, memoranda, and analyses of results. The following images show examples of the ‘lines to take’ created by CRD in the lead-up to these elections. Notably, whilst the Newbury by-election offered two options: ‘The Conservatives hold Newbury’ or ‘The Liberal Democrats take Newbury’, the later Christchurch election included an additional defeat option, allowing for either ‘Tories lose by less than 12,000’ or ‘Tories lose by more than 15,000’. Evidently, expectations had fallen. Whilst the Party won back Christchurch in the 1997 General Election, Newbury remained Liberal Democrat until 2005, illustrating misplaced confidence in the assertion that ‘come the next election, Newbury will return a Conservative candidate’ (CPA CRD 5/21/13).

Newbury by-election: Lines to take – CPA CRD 5/21/13.

Christchurch by-election: Lines to take – CPA CRD 5/21/14.

Conservative student organisations

Amongst the material being released this year are several files of both the Young Conservatives and Conservative Party student organisations, including the Conservative Collegiate Forum (CCF), also known as Conservative Students. Alongside the addition of these new files from 1993, the collection of Conservative Student Organisations, CCO 506/D, has recently been updated and expanded, offering a valuable insight into the political activities of Conservative students throughout the late 20th century. Files being released this year include assorted meeting minutes, conference papers, campaigning and publicity material, and research files. A significant amount of the material within this collection relates to the CCF’s campaign for voluntary membership of NUS (National Union of Students), a campaign which occupied much of their time and resources. The image below illustrates a couple of examples of the briefings and reports created by CCF during the late 1980s and early 1990s as they monitored and documented various student union ‘abuses’ perceived as evidence that student union reform, in general, was needed.

CCF research file: NUS and student unions – CPA CCO 506/65/3.

Rachel Whetstone, Conservative Research Department

Lastly, as in previous years, files of CRD, including subject files, briefs, and desk officers’ letter books, comprise a significant proportion of the newly-released files for 2024. Amongst these are a handful of letter books of Rachel Whetstone, head of CRD’s political section between 1992 and 1993. These offer an insight into the campaigning techniques and opposition monitoring carried out by CRD at this time. The image below shows a memorandum from Julian Lewis, CRD Deputy Director, outlining campaigning methods. Lewis argues in favour of negative campaigning, suggesting ‘We did not win the General Election – Mr Kinnock’s Labour Party lost it, largely as a result of the ‘fear factor’ which we and others had helped generate’ (CPA CRD/L/5/24/8).

Rachel Whetstone letter book: Political section – CPA CRD/L/5/24/8.

All the material featured in this blog post will be available from 2 Jan 2024. The full list of de-restricted items can be accessed here: Files de-restricted on 2024-01-02

The CRD catalogue is currently being updated and will be available shortly. In the meantime, if you wish to access any of the newly-available CRD files, please email conservative.archives@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Updated Catalogue: Conservative Central Office – Young Conservatives

We are pleased to announce the arrival of our expanded catalogue of the Young Conservatives, the youth wing of the Conservative Party. Over 40 boxes of new material have been added to the archival collection of the organisation, which existed under this name from 1946 to 1998, and was recently revived in 2018. The new material spans from 1959 to 1994 and covers a range of records from minutes and papers of the Young Conservatives’ National Advisory Committee to campaigning leaflets, posters and manifestos, adding substantially to the existing collection held as part of the Archive of the Conservative Party. The collection covers a range of important events within the history of the Young Conservatives, most notably its swing towards the radical right-wing during the 1980s, as well as its gradual membership decline and the early political careers of some prominent figures in British political and public life. This blog post will explore a handful of interesting topics which can be explored within this expanded collection, highlighting its significant historical value.

Youth for Military Disarmament

Throughout its existence, the Young Conservatives has had varying degrees of power and influence within the Party as a whole. Our new material explores this impact through various series including working groups and reports, external relations, publicity and officers’ papers. One of their most notable areas of influence was through campaigns they led, such as Youth for Military Disarmament (YMD) and the campaign for Sunday Trading.

YMD was set up by the Young Conservatives at the start of the 1980s to counter the message of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, especially amongst youth, instead arguing against unilateral disarmament in the UK. The campaign group had multiple directors, including Nick Robinson, later BBC political editor, and created an array of campaigning materials including posters, leaflets, badges and stickers. Files on YMD included in this catalogue offer an insight into the creation and use of these campaigning materials. The image below illustrates some examples, and the ‘campaigning checklist’ suggests leafletting in streets/schools/colleges and holding public meetings to spread the message.

YMD campaigning checklist and materials – CPA CCO 506/37/7.

This note from Phil Pedley, then Vice-Chairman of the Young Conservatives, demonstrates the early creation stage of these campaigning materials. Underneath a draft sketch and outline of the poster, he explains: ‘With this I’m trying to get the message across that there’s two sides with weapons & both must put down their weapons.’ The file later contains the completed A2 poster depicting a never-ending trail of USSR missiles contrasted with a handful of NATO missiles alongside the caption: ‘Do they really want peace? We do!’, clearly modelled on this initial idea.

Note from Phil Pedley, Vice-Chairman of the Young Conservatives, outlining his ideas for a YMD poster, Jul 1981 – CPA CCO 506/37/6.

Factionalism and swing to the right

From the early 1980s the Young Conservatives began to split into two factions, known informally as the ‘wets’ and ‘dries’, or the moderate and more right-wing sections of the group. This division was a reflection of the Party as a whole, which saw a similar split under the more hard-line leadership of Margaret Thatcher. The 1980s thus saw much in-fighting within the Young Conservatives, manifesting itself in accusations of electoral malpractice, members being banned from events, and scathing newsletters and leaflets spread at conferences. The image below is an example of a poster distributed at the 1988 Young Conservatives Annual Conference by the ‘dries’, criticising the leadership of Nick Robinson, Chairman at the time, specifically for banning 100 members from the event. The ‘wets’ successfully limited the influence of the ‘dries’ for several years until 1989, when Andrew Tinney became the first Chairman successfully elected from the right-wing slate.

Poster distributed at the 1988 Young Conservatives Annual Conference – CPA CCO 506/16/44.

A couple of new boxes contain material related specifically to the Committee of Enquiry, established in 1982 in response to extremist activity and right-wing infiltration into the organisation. As outlined in a circular in file CPA CCO 506/39/1, the need for this Committee ‘had been self-evident to the National Advisory Committee after the appalling publicity – principally in the summer months of 1982 – generated by the activities of the Uxbridge Young Conservatives’, who had ‘invited self-confessed fascists to speak to their branch and produced a newsletter entitled Dreadnought, which carried articles that were blatantly racist’.

The Committee wrote a report on the ‘Infiltration by the Extreme Right into the Conservative Party’ which covered the entire Party, its members fearing that the problem was not confined to the Uxbridge Young Conservatives or even the Young Conservatives as a whole. A draft version of this report was leaked in 1983 and a consequent BBC Panorama programme, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’, made various allegations of far-right sympathies within the Party. These led to two Conservative MPs, Gerald Howarth and Neil Hamilton, successfully suing the BBC for libel in 1986. Below are letters from these two MPs to John Selwyn-Gummer MP, Chairman of the Party, expressing their anger at having been included in this report.

Letters from Gerald Howarth MP and Neil Hamilton MP complaining about their inclusion in the Young Conservatives report on the infiltration of the extreme right into the Conservative Party, October 1983 – CPA CCO 506/39/4.

Notable figures

The Young Conservatives acted as an entrance into politics for many key political figures, catering for roughly the 16-30-year-old age group and encouraging membership by offering social activities and events in addition to political ones. Many of the new files released in this update contain correspondence, election manifestos, reports, and other insights into these early political careers, including future Conservative MPs such as Richard Fuller, Murdo Fraser, and Eric Pickles.

Below are some examples of candidate manifestos for internal elections, including those of:

  • Richard Fuller: Young Conservatives Chairman, 1985-1987, then an MP.
  • Nick Robinson: Young Conservatives Chairman, 1987-1988, then a journalist.
  • John Bercow: MP and Speaker of the House of Commons.
  • Andrew Tinney: Young Conservatives Chairman, 1989-1991.

Election Manifestos of Richard Fuller, 1986, and Nick Robinson, 1987 – CPA CCO 506/20/11.

Election Manifestos of John Bercow and Andrew Tinney, 1989 – CPA CCO 506/20/12.

Event programmes

Whilst the majority of the newly added material covers the 1970s and 1980s, there are a handful of interesting files covering the activities of the Young Conservatives during their earlier years of much higher membership, the group reaching c. 150,000 members in the 1950s. These include event programmes outlining the various social activities put on throughout the year by individual area branches. An example below demonstrates the events hosted by the York Young Conservative Organisation from April to June 1959, including games nights, a balloon race, and a motor treasure hunt.

Event Programme of the York Young Conservatives, 1959 – CCO 506/36/1.

All the material featured in this blog post, alongside the full updated collection of the Young Conservatives, is now available to view at the Weston Library. To browse the catalogue, visit: Collection: Conservative Party Archive: Conservative Central Office – Young Conservatives | Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts (ox.ac.uk)

New Archive of the Conservative Party releases for 2023

Each January the Archive of the Conservative Party releases files previously closed under the 30-year rule. The majority of newly-available files this year include research, correspondence, briefs and reports created in the lead-up to the 1992 General Election. It has been just over thirty years since John Major’s somewhat surprising election victory, allowing us to open up files offering a unique insight into the behind the scenes work contributing to this win. These include subject files and briefs prepared by Conservative Research Department, campaign documents created by Conservative Central Office, and reports collected by the Public Opinion Research Department, each with significant historical value. Additional newly-released material this year includes Conservative Research Department letter books, files created by the Conservative Overseas Bureau/International Office, and papers and correspondence of Conservatives in the European Parliament.

This blog post will explore a number of highlights of the newly-released material, specifically focussing on files relating to the 1992 General Election. A full list of the newly de-restricted items is linked at the end of the post.

General Election Warbook, Mar 1992

The Conservative Party’s Organisation Department, the largest component of Conservative Central Office, underwent a significant number of structural and organisational changes throughout its lifetime, becoming known as the Campaigning Department from 1989. The Department oversaw campaigning, training, community affairs, and local government, many of their records therefore offering an insight into election planning. Being released this year is a final draft copy of Conservative Central Office’s General Election ‘Warbook’, a document prepared for John Major outlining campaign plans for the election (see file CCO 500/24/309/2). The purpose of the document, as stated in its introduction, ‘is to outline the political scenario in which the next Election will be fought and to provide the detailed guidelines and direction within which a successful campaign can be waged.’ The document is divided into sections on the ‘battleground’ and the ‘campaign’, covering issues such as target groups and floating voters, election timing, and the role of the Prime Minister in the campaign.

Below is an example of a couple of pages from the battleground section of the document, highlighting some of the key political issues of the time in the UK. Inevitably, the economy comes first. The country was still in the midst of a recession that had begun under Thatcher’s leadership, with high unemployment a particular worry. Throughout these pages there is a clear focus on ‘psychological’ impacts of certain issues, including the ‘psychological turning point’ of inflation in the UK falling below that of Germany, and the ‘psychological 2.5 million barrier’ in unemployment figures. It is evident that this election campaign was highly focussed on the way the general public perceived economic changes. Further issues explored in later pages include the NHS, Europe, crime and education.

General Election Warbook: Economic Issues, Mar 1992 – CPA CCO 500/24/309/2.

A later section of the document focusses on target groups and communications during the campaign. It highlights the importance of media in reaching target audiences, stating ‘the objective must be to saturate the media with the Party’s campaign. If the Party reaches the media then the Party’s target groups among the electorate will also be reached.’ Some of these target groups, those typically considered floating voters or who current messaging was failing to reach, included the 30-45 age group, and upper working-class men. The importance of John Major as Party Leader is also discussed here, the document emphasising that ‘the Election Campaign will be more presidential in its style and manner than hitherto experienced.’

General Election Warbook: Target Groups and Communications, Mar 1992 – CPA CCO 500/24/309/2.

Inside Conservative Research Department, Mar-Apr 1992

Conservative Research Department also played a fundamental role in preparations for the election, acting as an essential source of facts and figures for key party members and MPs during the campaign. During the build-up to the 1992 General Election, David Cameron was Head of the Political Section of the Research Department, playing an integral role in these preparations. Amongst the new releases for this year are a couple of his letter books, as well as letters and briefs created by him amongst the letter books of desk officers who worked under his leadership.

The memoranda pictured below, sent out by Cameron in successive days in the week before Labour released their Shadow Budget, illustrate the inner workings of the Research Department at this time. Cameron stresses the importance of making sure ‘we destroy, comprehensively, Labour’s Shadow Budget on Tuesday’, highlighting the need to find any ‘technical slip ups’ and to brief selected journalists with specific topics and questions that might be particularly harmful to the opposition. This period was obviously one of the busiest for those employed in this department, with specific focus on anticipating the moves and policies of other parties in order to effectively tackle them.

David Cameron Letter Book: Political Section (General Election briefing material), Mar 1992 – CPA CRD/L/5/6/14.

The same letter book also contains a document looking back on the work of Conservative Research Department during the campaign. In addition to leading the Political Section of the Research Department, Cameron was responsible for briefing John Major for his press conferences throughout the election campaign, contributing to the very early mornings demonstrated by this timetable. This was perhaps too much to take on, as he reflects: ‘It was a mistake for the job of briefing the Prime Minster to be given to the Head of the Political Section. I should have concentrated solely on monitoring and responding to the statements and activities of the Labour and Liberal parties. It was quite difficult to combine both jobs and do them properly.’ Other reflections include the fact that the Economic Section were ‘persistent offenders’ in being late to submit briefs, and that opposition monitoring had been a particularly successful aspect of the campaign.

David Cameron Letter Book: Political Section (General Election briefing material), Apr 1992 – CPA CRD/L/5/6/14.

Defence, 1990-1992

The issue of defence was an area in which the Conservative Party particularly sought to distance their policies from those of their opposition, emphasising their approach as the only one able to keep the country safe. A newly-released subject file on defence (COB 8/5/2 Folder 5) contains briefings and memoranda relating to the Saatchi and Saatchi Party Election Broadcast on defence. The file demonstrates the gradual process involved in creating such broadcasts, with various annotated drafts illustrating how phrasing and structure was altered. The image below shows Guy Rowlands, Conservative Research Department defence desk officer, emphasising the need to remove the naming of the Ayatollahs as ‘villains’, as this inclusion was ‘just too sensitive and would spark problems’.

Party Election Broadcast on defence: planning, Feb 1992 – CPA COB 8/5/2 (Folder 5).

This file also contains papers relating to a plan of ‘teasing out some damaging nuggets from the Labour hierarchy by way of inspired correspondence.’ The plan involved finding members of the public, identified by constituency agents, willing to send letters to opposition MPs such as John Prescott, Gerald Kaufman and Joan Ruddock, to help the Party learn more about Labour’s defence policy and even encourage admissions such as ‘their life-long support for CND’, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In a letter to the Oldham West Conservative Association, Rowlands offers recommendations for such correspondence, suggesting ‘perhaps the letter-writer could pretend to be full of concern for nuclear proliferation and argue that the world needs organisations like CND more than ever before…!’ This was certainly an interesting tactic but may well have contributed in some small way to the Party’s election victory.

‘The Quest for Labour’s Defence Policy’, Feb 1992 – CPA COB 8/5/2 (Folder 5).

All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 3 Jan 2023. The full list of de-restricted items can be accessed here: Files de-restricted on 2023-01-03

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2022

Letter Books of David Cameron during his years as head of the Political Section of the Conservative Research Department (CRD), opinion research collected on the strengths and weaknesses of John Major as new leader of the Party, monitoring of opposition parties, including of Militant Labour MP Terry Fields, and an insight into the post and telephone calls received by the Correspondence Section of CRD, are among newly-available Conservative Party Archive files released by the Bodleian under the thirty-year-rule.

Following on from recent years, a large proportion of our new releases are from our collections of CRD files, including subject briefings, letter books of desk officers and subject specialists, and CRD files covering topics such as environmental policy, opinion research, opposition monitoring, and local and by-election preparations. Alongside these CRD files we will also be releasing papers, correspondence and memoranda from the Local Government Department of Conservative Central Office (CCO), Conservatives in the European Parliament, and the Conservative International Office, amongst other material.

This blog post will explore a number of highlights of the newly-released material, demonstrating their value for researchers and historians interested in the Conservative Party and/or British political history in general.

David Cameron’s Letter Books, 1990-1991

The first highlight of this year’s new releases are a number of David Cameron’s letter books from his time as head of the Political Section of CRD, a position he held between 1989 and 1992. Cameron was responsible for monitoring the policies and activities of other political parties, as well as assisting Central Office with the preparation of speaking campaigns, party political and other broadcasts. These letter books therefore give a fascinating insight into the early political career of the former Prime Minister, while also providing details on the Party’s process for monitoring opposition parties and preparing speeches for important figures. This first image shows a couple of examples of memoranda prepared by Cameron in early 1991, illustrating his important role in election planning in the lead up to the 1992 General Election. They reveal some of the key aspects of preparing intelligence on opposition parties, including creating profiles on opposition candidates and monitoring their media statements.

Memoranda written by David Cameron for CRD, planning the monitoring of opposition parties in the run up to the 1992 General Election – CPA CRD/L/5/6/6.

Cameron’s letter books (see files CRD/L/5/6/1-11) include a large quantity of similar files, as well as correspondence with other CRD members, speeches and press releases he prepared for various members of the Party, including the Chairman and Deputy Chairman, and papers and briefings attacking the Labour Party. These should prove a useful resource for researchers, giving detailed examples of the inside workings of the Research Department in the lead up to a general election, and the processes involved in dealing with the opposition. Another example of the items included in these letter books is this handwritten note providing feedback on a series of leaflets created for local government elections in 1990, Cameron advising that the leaflets should ‘remind people that Labour opposed our reforms’, especially as ‘those reforms have proved popular!’, referring to various changes in council services, education, and the NHS.

Note from David Cameron to David Trowbridge (Head of the Local Government Department of CCO), giving feedback on a series of leaflets being prepared for local government elections – CPA CRD/L/5/6/6.

Opposition Monitoring, 1983-1991

In addition to Cameron’s monitoring of other political parties within his role at CRD, this year’s releases contain a range of other files relating to opposition monitoring, particularly of the Labour Party. As noted above, profiles were created of opposition MPs, media regularly trawled through, and opposition speeches and public meetings attended, in order to provide the Conservative Party with crucial information and ammunition. Here is an example of one of many booklets and briefings created by the Research Department which sought to undermine the promises of the Labour Party, highlighting clearly the areas where the voting record of Labour MPs had clashed with their claims.

‘What they claim…and how they voted’ booklet created by CRD to highlight the false promises of the Labour Party – CPA CRD/5/11/1/8.

Alongside the large number of files providing an insight into this opposition monitoring of the Labour Party, we have a particularly notable newly available file which focuses entirely on one MP, Terry Fields. Since CRD’s creation in 1929, few, if any, other Opposition MPs have warranted their own file being kept on them, but due to his membership of Militant, a Trotskyist group in the British Labour Party which came to the fore in 1982 when the Labour-led Liverpool City Council adopted Militant policies, Fields was the exception. As part of this group, Fields, who was Labour MP for Liverpool Broadgreen from 1983 to 1992, was closely monitored until 1991 when he was jailed for refusing to pay his Poll Tax bill and shortly afterwards expelled from the Labour Party by Neil Kinnock. Within this file, CRD/4/16/27, the Research Department kept copies of his regular press-releases, extracts from Hansard containing his contributions in Parliament, and cuttings from newspapers of all leanings, including Militant.

Article from the Daily Telegraph on 3 May 1988 about the involvement of Terry Fields in a strike of school children against the Social Services Bill – CPA CRD/4/16/27.

Post and telephone calls received by the Party, 1988-1991

A significant part of the work of CRD desk officers was receiving and responding to correspondence from the general public in response to Party policies, news headlines, or requesting answers to a whole range of questions. Amongst the newly released material for 2022 are many files illustrating the types of correspondence frequently received and the topics which most interested the general public during the late 1980s and early 1990s. 1991 was John Major’s first full year as Prime Minister, during which he announced the abolition of the deeply unpopular Community Charge, entered British troops into the Gulf War, and sought to fight off the long-lasting recession, all themes which feature in these files. A couple of files in particular, CRD/D/10/3/6 and CRD/L/5/11/1, provide good summaries of the post and telephone calls received by the Correspondence Section of CRD, the two examples below demonstrating the degree of public response to various key issues of the time, including Thatcher’s resignation, the Community Charge, Edwina Currie’s resignation over the Salmonella controversy, and low pension levels.

Summary of post received by the Political Office at the end of 1988 and beginning of 1989 – CPA CRD/D/10/3/6.

Summary of phone calls received by the Correspondence Section of CRD on 21 November 1990, the day before Thatcher announced her resignation – CPA CRD/L/5/11/1.

Opinion Research, 1990-1991

A final important part of the operations of CRD was gathering information on the opinion of the public, especially when it came to important policy issues and opinion of party leaders. The latter seems to have been particularly important in 1991 as the Party sought to understand and promote their new leader after Thatcher’s eleven and a half years in office. In order to accurately understand how the general public viewed Major, particularly in comparison to the leader of the opposition, in March 1991 CCO commissioned the Harris Research Centre to undertake qualitative research to ‘examine the relative strengths and weaknesses of Mr Major and Mr Kinnock, mainly in terms of their style and personality, amongst weak Conservative voters’. The leaders were compared against a range of personality characteristics, including ‘likeable’, ‘confident’, ‘statesmanlike’ and ‘waffly’, with qualitative responses also recorded. This image shows a summary of Major’s positive characteristics which were mentioned during the survey, for instance describing him as ‘quietly powerful’ and ‘genuine’, giving the Party a good sense of public opinion and a strong position from which to promote certain characteristics and downplay others.

Results of the Harris Research Centre’s research into the personalities and styles of Major and Kinnock – CPA CRD/5/10/4.

All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2022. See the full list of de-restricted items here:        http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/archivesandmanuscripts/wp-content/uploads/sites/161/2021/12/Files-de-restricted-on-2022-01-01.pdf

Updated Catalogue: Conservative Central Office – Organisation Department

We are pleased to announce the launch of our revised and expanded catalogue of Conservative Central Office Organisation Department material, with an array of new material now available to readers for the first time. The catalogue contains papers of the Conservative Party’s Organisation Department and its successors from 1911-2000, including papers of the Director of Organisation, campaigning and elections materials spanning from the 1940s to late 1980s, reviews of the Party organisation, training files for agents, and files from the component sections of the Department. Amongst the newly added material is correspondence of politicians as far back as the 1930s, including Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and Rab Butler, as well as publicity and campaigning materials, and monitoring of other political parties. Since this catalogue is so expansive, covering material from all aspects of the work of the Organisation Department and spanning almost a century, this blog will highlight just a handful of interesting areas, demonstrating the catalogue’s significant value for historians of British politics and anyone with an interest in the Conservative Party.

Publicity and Campaigning, 1946-1989

A first highlight of the revised catalogue is the substantial amount of publicity and campaigning material, created by the Party during General Elections, By-Elections, and European Elections through the mid to late twentieth century. These files, within the ‘Campaigning and Elections’ series of the catalogue, give a great insight into both the behind the scenes creation of these campaigning materials, including early drafts and correspondence, and the final printed and published leaflets, posters, and pamphlets. Included within these files are artwork designs and leaflets created by Ronald Bell, who worked throughout the 1980s to organise and create national artwork used both between and during election campaigns. This image gives an example of such material, comprising correspondence sent to Bell in the late 1980s outlining the need for publicity promoting the benefits of the Community Charge to Asian families, and a translated leaflet created by Bell to achieve this. This file includes many examples of his artwork, as well as numerous drafts and early ideas for leaflets.

Correspondence and a draft leaflet relating to the Community Charge and the Asian Community, 1988 – CPA CCO 500/61/10

European Campaigning and Elections, 1957-1989

One of the largest areas of new material within the Organisation Department catalogue is European Campaigning and Elections. In addition to publicity files similar to those outlined above, such as posters, leaflets, and correspondence, this sub-series includes files on conferences, visits to the European Parliament, and press conferences. A particularly interesting event covered within this material is the 1975 referendum which asked whether or not the UK should remain a member of the European Communities. Over 67% of voters voted to remain, potentially swayed by posters such as these, campaigning for voters to choose to ‘Keep Britain in Europe’.

Keep Britain in Europe Posters, 1975 – CPA CCO 500/31/33

General Election Reviews, 1950-1970

General Election reviews were carried out by the Organisation Department following each General Election and reviewed every aspect of the Party’s campaign and organisation. This catalogue contains these reviews from 1950 to 1970, providing thorough analyses of campaigns and the organisational efficiency of the Party – potentially a very useful resource for historians interested in these Elections. This example from 1966 highlights the types of factors assessed in these reviews, from morale of workers to the following of election law.

Summary of General Election Reports, 1966 – CPA CCO 500/24/213

Correspondence, 1937-1967

A particular highlight of the new additions to this catalogue is the correspondence of various politicians between 1937 and 1967. These include letters on an assortment of topics, from Conservative Party policy and prospective Conservative candidates for Parliament, to Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s public image and The Convention on the Political Rights of Women. Also included are a handful of letters written by Sir Winston Churchill, mostly during his years as Leader of the Opposition from 1945-1951 and written to Lord Woolton, Chairman of the Conservative Party. The example below illustrates Churchill’s irritation at the lack of canvassing in the lead-up to the 1951 West Houghton by-election, which the Labour candidate won by over 60%, giving an insight into Churchill’s involvement and interest in these elections and his opposition to the ‘essence of defeatism’ described in his letter. Another letter written by Churchill, also within this file, shows his consideration of a proposal in 1946 to create ‘The Union Party’, comprising Unionists from across the political parties, as a ‘united Party against Socialism’, providing another insight into his thoughts and plans during this time.

Letter from Sir Winston Churchill to Lord Woolton concerning the West Houghton by-election and Gallup Poll results, June 1961 – CPA CCO 500/65/1/4

Political Parties (Monitoring), 1947-1983

A final area of the catalogue which has been widely expanded is the monitoring of other political parties, including the Labour Party, Liberal Party, SDP, and Communist and Far-Left Parties. These files largely consist of reports on the activities of these parties, copies of their leaflets and other campaigning materials, and newspaper articles concerning their actions and policies. This example of a report on SDP activities from the 1980s demonstrates the type of work carried out by the Organisation Department to monitor their opponents, including information on key figures within the SDP, rallies and major public meetings organised by the Party, and a list of defectors from the Conservative Party to the SDP.

Report on SDP activities since approximately 1st July 1981 – CPA CCO 500/25/12/1

All the material featured in this blog post is now available, see Collection: Conservative Party Archive: Conservative Central Office – Organisation Department | Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts (ox.ac.uk) for the fully-searchable list of items within this catalogue.

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2021

Conservative Research Department (CRD) briefings on the poll tax, the Gulf War, and the UK’s entry into the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), plans and correspondence surrounding publicity of the poll tax, preparations for local elections and by-elections, and think tank research notes on a range of important topical issues, are among newly-available Conservative Party Archive files released by the Bodleian under the thirty-year-rule.

As in previous years, many of our new releases are drawn from our collections of CRD files, including policy briefings prepared for Members of Parliament, opposition monitoring files, publicity for the poll tax, and preparations for local and by-elections. This year we will also be releasing research notes from the Progress Trust think tank, available to consult for the first time, as well as correspondence, papers and meeting notes from Conservatives in the European Parliament and the Women’s Organisation of the Conservative Party.

This blog post will briefly examine some of the highlights included in the newly-released files, illustrating their value for researchers of the Conservative Party and historians of British political history.

Conservative Research Department Briefings, 1990

This year’s releases under the thirty-year rule include a wide range of policy briefings prepared by the Research Department. These briefings, generally prepared for Conservative MPs and Peers ahead of parliamentary debates, provide an important insight into the Party’s thinking and their strategy when dealing with key issues of the day. Notable subjects covered by the briefings being released this year include the poll tax, the short-lived entrance of the UK into the ERM, and the Gulf War. Among these briefings are also those written by David Cameron as Head of the Political Section of the CRD from 1989 to 1992 (see file CRD/B/23/10 for his Political Information briefs, including handwritten annotations).

A selection of CRD briefings from the Environment file, covering the Community Charge, including answers to topical questions, explanations of the safety net, rebates and transitional relief, and criticisms of Labour policy – CPA CRD/B/11/9.

Other topics included in the briefs from 1990 include the economy, environment, education, foreign and home affairs, and transport, all valuable resources for those studying specific or general aspects of the Thatcher era.

CRD briefing from the Environment file entitled ‘Global Warming and World Climate Change’, including quotes from a speech made by Margaret Thatcher to the United Nations – CPA CRD/B/11/9.

Poll Tax Publicity

The introduction and fall-out from the widely criticised Community Charge (commonly known as the ‘poll tax’) dominated the late Thatcher years, and as a result this year’s de-restrictions contain many files discussing it, providing a fascinating insight into how the Party responded to criticisms and tried to combat the negative electoral impact of the new tax. These files include not only the comprehensive briefings mentioned above, but also Research Department preparation for advertising and party-political broadcasts to promote and provide more information on the poll tax. File CPA CRD 5/10/3 includes various drafts of a proposed local government advertising campaign which was tested using research groups, in the form of propositions with supporting facts. The image below shows an annotated copy of a plan for this campaign, giving historians of this era a useful insight into how the Party viewed misinformation as a key factor in the discontent surrounding the tax, and the methods they used to try and tackle this.

Annotated copy of a proposed local government advertising campaign to combat the negative public opinion of the poll tax – CPA CRD 5/10/3.

Also among newly-available files highlighting the poll tax as a high priority issue during local election campaigning, file CPA CRD 5/17/2/4 comprises drafts of a script for the Local Government Party Political Broadcast on 2 May 1990. The script involves a husband and wife dispelling numerous misconceptions about the poll tax, for instance the husband saying “I thought the whole idea was everybody pays the same” and his wife explaining “That everybody who can pay, pays something, yes. But not all the same. I mean students like young Tom get 80% off their poll tax”.

Local Elections and By-Elections Papers and Briefings

A particularly strong area in this year’s releases are Research Department files on local elections and by-elections in 1990. These files include large briefing packs for local elections, briefings and papers for by-elections, and various correspondence. Such files would be particularly useful for any historians of the specific locations of these by-elections, including Bradford North, Bootle, and Eastbourne, as well as anyone studying the policies of the Thatcher era in general.

Further, the image below demonstrates how these files can give an interesting insight into how the Party prepared for elections in Labour strongholds.

Briefing on ‘Lines to Take’ in the event of different election outcomes, Bradford North By-election file – CPA CRD/5/21/6.

Ebury Research Notes, 1989-1990

A further highlight of the releases this year are the Ebury research notes produced by the Progress Trust think tank. These research notes should prove to be a highly useful resource for historians of the period, with a vast range of topics covered.

The images below give an insight into the types of topics covered by these notes. With the House of Commons being first broadcast to the public in November 1989, the research note on the right gives suggestions as to how MPs should and shouldn’t behave, concluding “In short, forget the traditions of the House of Commons; forget that it used to be your place of work. It is now a place where you are on show. Bad luck.” This file (CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1) also includes notes on a whole host of further topics, such as the poll tax (with research notes on the reasons for unpopularity, possible remedies, and ideas for reforming the poll tax), the popularity of Thatcher, the environment, education, and the economy.

Ebury Research Notes on Nigel Lawson’s Resignation and Televising Parliament – CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1.

These notes also comprise interesting information on relations with Europe, another highly contentious issue of the day. The images below show a research note on the issue of Britain’s membership of, and relationship with, the European Economic Community (EEC), a useful source for anyone studying the history of Britain’s, and the Party’s, relationship with Europe.

Ebury Research Note on Britain’s membership of the EEC – CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1.

Ebury Research Note on Britain’s membership of the EEC – CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1.

All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2021. The full list of de-restricted items will be published shortly on the CPA website, where past de-restriction lists from previous years are also available.