The collection gives use an insight into how the politics of European integration changed over the course of the United Kingdom’s 47-year membership of the European Union and its predecessors. During the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, the Conservative Party adopted a strongly pro-European position. This can be seen in the Party’s 1984 publication Questions and Answers on Europe, produced by the Conservative Research Department for that year’s elections [CPA PUB 334/8 – pictured below]. Although stressing the need to reform the Community budget and rein in spending, Questions and Answers also champions an extension of the EEC’s role into the areas of financial services and pollution controls.Thirty years later, and the evolution in the Party’s thinking can be seen clearly. The Conservative Party European Election Manifesto 2014 (the Party’s final European manifesto, as none was produced for the 2019 elections) placed a rejection of the European Union’s status quo front-and-centre [CPA PUB 332/8 – pictured below]. Insisting that the EU was ‘too bureaucratic and too undemocratic’, Prime Minister David Cameron used the manifesto to pledge that the Party would deliver an in-out referendum on the question of Britain’s membership, setting the stage for the Brexit vote in 2016. The collection is therefore a valuable resource for researchers working on Britain’s relations with the European Union, as well as for historians of British Party politics. Also included in the updated catalogue are the Conservative Party Archive’s collections of European election addresses and ephemera. Prior to 1999, British Members of the European Parliament were elected on an individual constituency basis using the same system as in elections to the House of Commons. The election addresses of Conservative candidates therefore not only provide us with an insight into the course of specific election campaigns, but also serve as a source more generally for how MEPs sought to present their work to the wider public. The inclusion of election addresses from other parties means that the series also serves as a useful resource for the history of British politics more generally, for instance in charting the unexpected rise of the Green Party in 1989. For full details of our holdings on the Conservative Party’s European Election publications, please view our online catalogue, accessible here.
Among the highlights of the new catalogue are the papers of the Conservative Delegation leaders in the European Parliament. These includes the correspondence of Sir Henry Plumb, Chairman of the European Democratic Group from 1982-1987 and 1994-1996, and the only British politician to ever serve as President of the European Parliament. Plumb’s papers include exchanges of letters with senior politicians in Britain, Europe, and the wider world, and are a fantastic resource for studying the politics of European integration in the 1980s.Also included in the new catalogue are the Conservative Delegation’s meeting papers, with detailed minutes for the late-1970s and 1980s. The records of these meetings, which took place on a regular basis during sittings of the European Parliament, provide us with a interesting insight into the work of Conservative MEPs during this period, as well as serving as a source for the wider politics of the period. The files also contain a number of documents of historical interest, including a detailed transcript of a meeting between Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Delegation in January 1980 (pictured below). Of likely further interest to historians are the records of the European Democratic Group’s ‘Study Day’ conferences. These meetings were held several times a year with the aim of drawing up policies for the Conservatives Delegation, particularly in relation to the future development of the European Community. In many cases the files still contain the discussion papers debated at the meetings, which can provide us with a fascinating insight into the evolution of Conservative thinking on European integration over the course of the 1980s. In total, the collection includes nearly 300 boxes of archival material, with records spanning from 1971 through to 2015. All files dating up to 1989 (excepting those restricted for reasons of data protection) are available for consultation, and going forward we plan to make additional files available on an annual basis under the 30-year rule.
For full details of the material available, please view our catalogue on the Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts platform, available here.
Strategy briefings prepared for Margaret Thatcher, monitoring files on opposition parties, and top-level planning papers for the 1989 European Elections are among newly-available Conservative Party Archive files released by the Bodleian under the thirty-year-rule. As in previous years, the bulk of our new releases are drawn from our collections of Conservative Research Department (CRD) files, including the papers of CRD Director Robin Harris as well as policy briefing and opposition monitoring files prepared by David Cameron during his time as a desk officer. This year we will also be releasing files from the newly-catalogued records of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, as well as additional files from the records of Conservative Central Office and the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs. This blog posts examines some of the highlights from among the newly-released files, demonstrating their use for historians and students of British political history.
1989 European Elections
Among the highlights of our releases this year are the Party’s election-planning files for the 1989 European Elections. The records of the Conservative Research Department are particularly strong on this topic, and include working papers on the development of the Party’s manifesto. The image below shows manifesto drafts from February 1989, with a covering note from Geoffrey Howe to Margaret Thatcher outlining the state of play [CPA CRD 4/30/3/23].The election did not go well for the Conservatives, who after ten years in office lost their first national vote to the Labour Party since the 1970s. Among the files newly-available for 2020 are the papers of the Jackson Inquiry into what went wrong with the campaign, including its final report which blamed divisions within the Party over European policy for the result [CPA CCO 508/4/23/2]. These files, and others on the 1989 European Elections, should prove particularly useful for the study of the history of the Conservative Party and Europe.
Another particularly strong area in this year’s releases is in the party’s opposition monitoring files. Keeping tabs on the activities, policy proposals and backgrounds of politicians from other parties was one of the key responsibilities of the Conservative Research Department, and the resulting files they produced make for an invaluable source for historians of the Thatcher era. For instance, the regular Labour Briefing series of memoranda provides us with an insight into how the Conservatives gathered intelligence on the Labour Party and sought to use it for political advantage. The papers also include references to contemporary political leaders – the memorandum shown below quotes then-backbencher Jeremy Corbyn speaking in opposition to Labour leader Neil Kinnock [CPA CRD 4/16/30].The Party’s opposition monitoring operation at the end of the 1980s is also of historical interest because of the contribution of David Cameron, who became head of CRD’s Political Section in 1989. The image below shows briefing notes prepared by Cameron on the Green Party’s annual conference following the Party’s successes in the European Elections [CPA CRD 4/16/65]. Among other papers of Cameron’s de-restricted for 2020 are briefings on energy and industrial policy, as well as documents relating to his work as secretary of the Party’s Trade & Industry Forum.
Thatcher’s Image and the Poll Tax
This year’s set of releases can also give us a more general insight into the politics of the final years of the Thatcher government. The Research Department files on the 1989 Party Conference, for instance, reveal much about the Party’s messaging priorities. The image below shows a briefing note prepared for Margaret Thatcher by Brendan Bruce, the Party’s Director of Communications, setting out her strengths while warning of potential areas where the Party will have to be on the defensive [CPA CRD/4/29/8].While the Party may have been confident about the immediate political situation in 1989 however, the files also reveal increasing uneasiness about the introduction of the Community Charge – commonly known as the ‘poll tax’. The file below from Central Office’s Local Government Department reveals the Party’s concerns about the electoral impact of the new tax in marginal seats, warning that it will create ‘far more losers… than winners’ [CPA CCO 130/6/38]. These papers thus have the potential to give us a real understanding as to how the Party confronted the politics of the poll tax, an issue that was ultimately to bring the Thatcher era to a close.
All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2020. 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.
Among the highlights of the updated catalogue are the minute books of the Conservative Women’s National Committee. Known as the Women’s National Advisory Committee prior to 1982, the CWNC was the ‘governing body’ of the Conservative Women’s Organisation and a key component of the Party’s voluntary wing. Previously the Bodleian’s holdings in this area only went up to the 1970s, but following the completion of this cataloguing project the Conservative Party Archive collection now includes minute books of the CWNC and its sub-committees running through into the 1990s. As well as providing detailed information on the running of the Women’s Organisation, the minute books serve as an excellent record of the voluntary Party’s responses to the major issues of the day.Additionally available for the first time are the papers of Angela Hooper, who served as the Deputy Director of Organisation and Chief Woman Executive at Conservative Central Office during the 1970s and 1980s. The files in this series detail Hooper’s work in providing professional support for the Women’s Organisation, and also include correspondence with senior Party officials and material relating to European issues. Hooper’s papers therefore provide a fascinating insight into the workings of the Party organisation during a time of immense political and social change. The catalogue also includes the papers of Baroness Janet Young, the Party’s Vice-Chairman for Women (1975-1983) and a member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, as well as the records of the British Section of the European Union of Women and subject files relating to a range of political issues.
For full details of our holdings on the Conservative Women’s Organisation, please view our online catalogue, accessible here.
As a concise record of the Party’s policy platform, the general election manifestos of the Conservative Party have been a vital source to historians of British politics, enabling researchers to clearly trace the evolution of Party thinking over the years. The updated catalogue now includes copies of the Conservative Party manifesto (in various formats) from the time of the 1922 general election through to the present day. The revised catalogue also includes a number of national, regional and specialist editions of the Conservative manifesto, providing further glimpses into the complexity of British electoral politics.In addition to the Party manifesto, this collection also includes historical guidance published by the Party for the use of candidates and activists. The Speakers’ Notes series (also published under the titles Candidates’ Notes and Notes for Speakers) contained summaries of the key election issues along with suggested lines to take and statistical information, providing us with a ‘behind the scenes’ perspective on the Party’s election campaigns. Other running series included in the catalogue are the Election Manual, which provided practical guidance to agents, and Questions of Policy, which provided clarifications of manifesto policy in response to questions raised during the election campaign. The new catalogue is available to view online on the Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts platform, accessible here. In the coming months we will also be publishing a companion catalogue for the Conservative Party’s European Election publications, which we hope will be of further use to students and researchers of British political history.
The Conservative Party Archive is always growing, and we are keen to collect campaign materials produced for the 2019 general election. Specifically, we are interested in the following items:
- Conservative Party leaflets and election ephemera.
- Election addressees (election communications) produced by candidates of all parties.
If you would like to donate any election material you receive during the campaign, please post it to: Conservative Party Archive, Department of Special Collections, Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BG
Speaking notes prepared for Margaret Thatcher, annotated drafts of William Hague’s election leaflets, and briefing papers written by David Cameron as a young researcher are all among files newly-released by the Conservative Party Archive for 2019. This year, our releases are drawn primarily from the records of the Conservative Research Department (CRD): these comprise the department’s subject files and working papers, its briefings prepared for Members of Parliament, and the papers and correspondence of CRD desk officers. In addition to our regular scheduled de-restrictions, the Conservative Party Archive is pleased to announce that the papers of Robin Harris, the Director of the Conservative Research Department from 1985-1989, will also be made available for consultation for the first time. This blog will briefly look at some of the items to be found in each of these main series, demonstrating the value of these collections to researchers of the Conservative Party and historians of modern British history.
Conservative Research Department Files, 1988
Among the newly-released records are a number of files on the ever-thorny question of Europe, including the minutes and papers of the European Steering Committee, the Party’s coordinating group for the 1989 elections to the European Parliament. These files provide a fascinating insight into the challenges the Party faced in trying to balance the record of its MEPs with the increasing Euroscepticism of British Conservatism: a September 1988 report on the Party’s private polling on Europe, for instance, warned that nearly a third of Conservative general election voters were opposed to EEC membership and would not turn out to support the Party in the European Elections [CPA CRD 4/30/3/1]. The Conservative Party Archive has, separately, also recently acquired the records of the Conservative delegation to the European Parliament in this period, and will be seeking to make these available for consultation later in 2019.
Conservative Research Department Briefings, 1988
This year’s releases under the thirty-year rule include a wide range of policy briefings prepared by the Research Department. These briefings, typically prepared for Conservative MPs and Peers ahead of parliamentary debates, provide an excellent snapshot of the Party’s thinking, tactics, and rhetorical strategy on the key issues of the day. Subjects covered by the briefings include some of the most prominent policies of the Thatcher government, including the introduction of the Community Charge (Poll Tax) and the privatisation of state-owned utilities.
This series notably includes briefing papers prepared by David Cameron during his time in CRD, covering topics on environmental, energy and industrial policy. In 1989 Cameron became the Head of the Political Section, a post he held in the department until 1992, and we expect to be able to de-restrict more of his papers from this period in the years ahead.
Conservative Research Department Letter Books, 1988
The papers and letter books of the Research Department desk officers are a unique resource for those studying the history of Conservatism. Among those files newly de-restricted for 2019 are the letter books of CRD Desk Officer Richard Marsh. Specialising in environmental policy and local government, Marsh’s papers include extensive material on the Poll Tax, and are likely to be of high value to researchers of the subject. Marsh’s papers also include a draft copy of William Hague’s election leaflet from the 1989 by-election, complete with revealing annotations – a pledge to bring in harsher sentences for criminals, for instance, is struck out and replaced with a vaguer commitment to take ‘vigorous action in the fight against crime’ [CPA CRD/L/4/40/2].
Papers of Robin Harris, Research Department Director, 1985-1988
Finally, the records of CRD Director Robin Harris provide a rich insight into the Conservative Party during the 1980s. For instance, Harris’ letter book for August and September 1987 shows how the Research Department went about preparing material for Thatcher’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference, with draft sections of the speech and working memoranda included in the file [CRD/D/10/2/25].
Harris’ papers also show how the Party responded at times of political crisis. During the Westland Affair, when Thatcher’s premiership was briefly seen to be threatened, the Party received numerous letters from the public calling on the Prime Minister to resign. Harris’ memo books from the time show how Conservative Central Office managed the situation, drafting template responses defending the government’s conduct [CRD/D/10/1/11]. The papers should prove to be a valuable resource for historians of the period, and we expect to be able to make further de-restrictions in this series under the thirty-year rule in January 2020.
All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2019. The full list of de-restricted items will be published shortly on the CPA website, where de-restriction lists from previous years are also available.
Next week the voters of Lewisham East will go to the polls to elect a new member of parliament. Using the collections of the Conservative Party Archive, this blog post looks back at the last parliamentary by-election in the borough, held in 1957.
On 16 Feb 1957 a letter arrived at Conservative Central Office on the subject of the Lewisham North by-election, held two days previously. Addressed to the “Party Manager”, it read simply:- “Dear Sir, What the hell are you doing?”. [CCO 1/12/25/3]The letter was just one of many critical messages sent in by Conservative supporters around the country following the by-election, which had seen the party lose the seat to Labour on a swing of 5.5%. The vote had been the Tories’ first electoral test since Harold Macmillan had replaced Anthony Eden as Prime Minister – and it appeared that the change in leadership had failed to improve the party’s fortunes.
The by-election was triggered by the death of Sir Austin Hudson, the Conservative member for the seat since 1950. Although present-day Lewisham is seen as a Labour stronghold, in the 1950s the Conservatives had a strong record in the area, and with a new leader in Downing Street the government could be expected to have a fair chance of retaining the seat on a platform of tax cuts and improved living standards. In his election address the party’s candidate, Norman Farmer, urged voters to give a “vote of confidence to the new Conservative government”, and echoed Macmillan’s pledge that “Britain has been great, is great and will stay great.” [PUB 229/1/12]
The Conservative Campaign was soon blown off course however, as Labour went on the attack over the government’s controversial Rent Bill, which dismantled much of the post-war rent control system. The Labour candidate Niall MacDermot used his election address to warn that tenants will be left “at the mercy of the landlord” under the Tory plans. [PUB 229/1/12] The line of attack appears to have worked:- a memorandum by the party’s Chief Organisation Officer on 8 Feb 1957 notes that “The main lines of opposition attack appears to be the ‘Rent Bill’. We are likely to lose Conservative support on the issue… I am not very hopeful of holding the seat”. [CCO 1/12/25/2]Another issue that haunted the Conservatives was the legacy of the Suez Crisis, which had brought down Eden’s premiership. Not only did Labour continue to attack the Conservatives’ handling of the episode, but in Lewisham North the party also faced a challenge from the right-wing League of Empire Loyalists, an imperialist pressure group that supported independent candidate Lesley Greene. Greene, who was also the organising secretary of the League, used her election address to denounce the government for the loss of British influence over Suez: “All but one of the Cabinet Ministers responsible for this sickening humiliation are still members of the Government. Where is their national pride?” [PUB 229/1/12] The Conservatives sought to counter such charges by appealing to voters’ patriotism: “Don’t Listen to Nasser’s Advice’ urged one of Farmer’s leaflets, claiming that the Egyptian leader wanted to see the Conservatives defeated. [CCO 1/12/25/2] The party failed to defuse the issue however, and the Conservatives were forced onto the defensive throughout the campaign. Unsurprisingly, Conservative post-mortem reports on the by-election defeat identified Labour’s campaign against the Rent Bill and the fallout from Suez as major reasons for the defeat. However, the party’s campaigners also identified more practical reasons for the failure to hold the seat:- Labour for instance were accused of deploying an illegal number of cars to ferry their voters to the polling stations (the use of private motor transport in elections was strictly regulated in the post-war period), while one Conservative canvasser berated the party for “knocking-up” their supporters too late in the day, as “it is difficult to get women to vote in the evenings as they have their husbands’ dinners to prepare”. [CCO 1/12/25/3] Reports such as these offer a fascinating insight into the very different nature of election campaigns in the 1950s.
The Conservative defeat in North Lewisham was ultimately short-lived: the party regained the seat in Macmillan’s 1959 general election victory, and subsequently held it until 1966. Even so, the contest gives us a snapshot of British politics at a time of great upheaval and change. Whoever wins in Lewisham East next Thursday, it might well be that historians of the future will similarly look at the records of the campaign in order to understand our own politics and times.
This blog is based on the Conservative Party Archive’s correspondence series and collection of historical election addresses. The archive as whole contains the official papers of the Conservative Party’s parliamentary, professional and voluntary wings, spanning from 1867 through to the present day. Visit our website for more information on our holdings and to view our full online catalogues.
Top-level strategy papers that detail the Thatcher government’s efforts to secure a third term are among papers newly-released by the Conservative Party Archive for 2018. The previously-restricted documents, now made available for the first time under the 30 year rule, form part of an extensive series of party papers from the election year of 1987, including drafts of the Conservative manifesto, detailed plans of campaign activities, and election briefings prepared by the Conservative Research Department. This piece briefly examines two such documents from one of the newly-released files [CRD 4/30/7/25], private briefings prepared for the Prime Minister’s election planning meetings in December 1986 and April 1987, to illustrate the research potential of these newly-available collections.
Although the 1987 election ultimately resulted in a second landslide for Thatcher’s Conservatives, the party was far from certain of such an outcome. ‘We believe that the electorate will be in a more questioning mood than in 1983 in the aftermath of the Falklands’, the December 1986 report cautioned, stressing the need for the party to develop and communicate clear plans for the future rather than simply seeking re-election on the basis of past achievements. The changing nature of the electoral map prompted particular concern. Although the Conservatives had opened up a narrow polling lead, the report identified a ‘sharp North-South disparity’, which posed a serious risk to the Conservative position: while the party’s national polling suggested a parliamentary majority of 20, this ‘disappeared entirely and left us in a minority of 2’ when regional variations were taken into account. In an echo of the party’s present-day challenges, the report additionally flagged up the dangers of the growing age-gap in the party’s support: ‘the under 45 group, and particularly first time voters, are still a cause of considerable concern.’
The prospect of a lost majority was still taken seriously on the eve of the election campaign, as the papers prepared for a top-level meeting at Downing Street on 16 April 1987 reveal. Although Party Chairman Norman Tebbit’s paper on general strategy began with the cautious observation that the government were favoured to win ‘with a smaller but working majority’, he warned that ‘the prospect of a hung parliament is attractive to the press and will be promoted by those hostile to us’. To counter this, he urged, the party needed to polarise the issues as far as possible, presenting a Conservative majority as the only alternative to weak or extreme government: ‘Our aim should be to make the supreme issue whether there will be a continuation of Conservative Government or through a “hung” Parliament a Labour administration with Alliance or other minority party support.’
Strategies aside, the party’s election plans also give a fascinating insight into how the party sought to understand and reshape its image going into the election. Discussing the party’s loss of support during the middle of 1986, the CCO Campaign Plans document warned of a ‘a growing perceived conflict between the two important themes of “Calvinism” or “individual responsibility” on the one hand, and “caring” on the other […] reflected in serious concerns about unemployment, health care, education and pensions’. Yet the strategy paper also reveals a resistance to any significant change in course: the proposal to organise the Prime Minister’s campaign tours around the theme of ‘regeneration’ is pointedly removed from the draft document in favour of a more individualistic emphasis on ‘believing [in] people’ and ‘personal property’. Similarly on Thatcher’s own image, the paper goes out of its way to reject suggestions that she adopt a ‘soft’ image, instead recommending a campaign focused upon her strengths: ‘leadership, strength and experience.’
These papers will provide an essential resource for scholars of the 1987 general election and the politics of the Thatcher era, complementing the Conservative Party Archive’s existing collections of published material from the campaign. The Bodleian has also additionally taken receipt of a large donation of previously undocumented files from this period, so it is hoped that the CPA will be able to continue to expand its collections on the 1987 general election in years to come.
The material examined in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2018. In addition to papers on the 1987 general election, the list of newly-released papers also includes material on the introduction of the poll tax, the party’s private polling and opinion research, and a wide range of briefings produced by the Conservative Research Department. For a full list of derestricted items, see the CPA website.