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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.