|Minutes of the first ever annual Conservative Party Conference, 12 November 1867 [NUA 2/1/1]
Each October, Archive staff pack up and head for the Conservative Party Conference. This year, we’ll be in Birmingham at the ICC. Modern conferences are a far cry from the very first one, held in 1867 at the Freemasons Tavern. These days, the annual conference attracts nearly 14,000 attendees over four days of agenda setting. In addition to the conference proper, there are hundreds of fringe events and a full exhibition hall.
The conference gives us the opportunity to speak to Party members, letting them know about our collections and the history they represent. The Archive exists to preserve an important part of UK history – but it does more than just inform students of the past. The material in the Conservative Party Archive supports a democratic society, encouraging transparency and reminding us of decisions and their consequences. Archival material can further the aims and interests of the Party as well as help it learn from its history. The CPA works to ensure that these documents are accessible to researchers and Party members, students and local historians. We balance preservation and access, dealing with all sorts of material from 100-year-old minute books to emails and videos.
|Visit our website for the full range of CPA merchandise
The annual conference raises our visibility and lets people know what we do (sometimes we even get new material out of it!), but it also fills another important role in our work: fundraising to support the work of the Archive. We’ll be selling merchandise with images from our fantastic election poster collection, including mugs, magnets and posters. As mentioned last week, we’ll also have copies of our Dole Queues and Demons book, and we have a limited number of signed Labour Isn’t Working and Double Whammy posters (signed by Thatcher and Major).
If you have a moment at the conference, come stop by our stand – we’ll be at P10-11 in the exhibition hall.
Saatchi & Saatchi’s famous Labour Isn’t Working poster of 1978
In his forward to Dole Queues and Demons, Maurice Saatchi claims that posters are to politics ‘what poetry is to literature: the only possible words in the only possible order. They should instantly convey the core message in a memorable way. This requires a handful of words, each of which is perfectly chosen, married to an image which reinforces them. When this happens posters can be the single defining medium of a campaign.’
This poster, from 1929, plays on the idea of unpopular government regulators ‘sticking their nose’ into the Englishman’s home
Dole Queues to Demons: British Election Posters from the Conservative Party Archive offers powerful insight into the impact of poster design on a political campaign. From the early Edwardian posters – colourful in both pigment and content – to the pointed posters of Saatchi in the 1980s, many of the political themes have remain the same, but the ways in which they were expressed had the power to make or break campaigns.
Early posters like this one from 1909 often addressed issues like free trade and protectionism (and here, Lloyd George)
Divided into chapters based on political periods, the book offers over 200 examples of posters drawn from the Conservative Party Archive Poster Collection. The images are accompanied by historical background written by Dr Stuart Ball, political historian from the University of Leicester, with a foreword by advertising guru Maurice Saatchi.
By 1992, Saatchi & Saatchi’s simple and bold posters had become the Party norm. Here, an ‘L’ plate hinted at what the Conservative’s believed to be Labour’s inexperience
The book will be available from the Conservative Party Archive stand at the Party Conference next month (stalls P10 & P11 – Hall 3 in the Party Zone) as well as from the Blackwell’s Bookshop stand.
Just in time for the Conservative Party Conference (and early Christmas shopping):
Dole Queues and Demons: British Election Posters from the Conservative Party Archive
Text: Stuart Ball
Foreword: Maurice Saatchi
Published 3 November 2011; see a preview copy and place your order at the Conservative Party Archive stand at the Party Conference, 2-5 October.
Pre-order form available
A unique blend of graphic design, bold art or photography and cunning psychology, election posters are an unsung art form, stretching back to the dawn of the twentieth century. Exploiting the Conservative Party Archive’s collection of over 700 posters, this book charts the evolution of the Conservatives’ election posters.
Divided into chapters along political periods, the book highlights the changing fashions in and attitudes to advertising, political ideology, slogans, combativeness and above all, propriety. Each chapter includes a brief introduction discussing the major themes of the period as well as captions explaining specific issues related to the individual posters.
Lavishly illustrated, Dole Queues to Demons gives a fascinating insight into the issues and strategies of the Conservative Party throughout the twentieth century, and up to the present day. A foreword by advertising guru Maurice Saatchi discusses the posters from a communication and design perspective. This book will fascinate anyone interested in social and political history and modern communications. Published at a time when the advent of new media threatens to herald the end of traditional forms of mass communication, this book takes a timely retrospective look at this enduring feature of the British electoral landscape.
We’ve recently returned from a busy week at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham – see our welcome to delegates on the Blue Blog – and we enjoyed talking to conference delegates about the archive and our work. One of the most common questions we had from visitors to our stand was, in fact, the most basic: ‘What DO you do?’
That’s not a simple question to answer. Well. There is a simple answer – we act as the archive of the Party’s central organisations, from Central Office to much smaller committees. But a working archive, especially one located in the very busy Bodleian Library, does quite a bit more than just hold papers.
So what do we do? Loads! There are three of us in the archive, and quite a bit of our daily work involves responding to enquiries from researchers all over the world. In the past year, we’ve answered hundreds of questions and helped students, academics, and anyone with a research interest visit the Bodleian to view material from the Archive.
The questions and research interests we see range from simple – ‘We’d like to use one of your posters in our TV programme or come see it at the Bodleian; how do we go about arranging that?’ – to much more complex. One researcher needed circulation statistics for Conservative publications in the 1930s, as well as information on travelling cinema vans. Another was trawling through literally thousands of files, looking for a few specific references. Other research questions deal with just about every aspect of Conservative and British history, policy, and people.
|Shelves and shelves of material
Helping with research – both by answering questions or helping readers get files – takes up a good chunk of our time. But in order for researchers to use our material, they have to be able to find it. We receive new material regularly – both current and historical – and this has to be added to our existing holdings. Sometimes this is an easy job, but at other times it means wading through dusty boxes of fragile papers from the 1940s, trying to read handwriting of varying quality and determining how best to categorise material so that it will be easy to find. We’re working on it all the time so that our catalogue is up to date – for instance, right now we’re trying to develop a thorough listing of all of our speeches and speech drafts, going to the 1950s. This sort of work really helps us to get to know what we have, and we find all sorts of interesting things when we’re doing it (we’ve stumbled across things like ‘I Like Ike’ badges from 1950s US presidential elections and some fantastic Christmas cards from various politicians).
When we’re not working with readers/researchers or on holdings, we’re focused on a number of projects we have in the pipeline. A few years ago, we digitised our election poster holdings (there’s the potential for a book of them at some point). We’re working on a similar project with various political cartoons in our archive – keep an eye out for part one, which should go live soon. The process is a lot of work – photographing, adding metadata and search information, and more. We are also involved with what has become a very important debate: how to preserve material that is ‘born digital’. How can we preserve digital Party information – such as posters, leaflets, websites blogs, etc. – in the Archive? The British Library has been working on the question over the past few years, and we’re having a trial run now too. It touches on issues at the very heart of what archivists do; we don’t just hold and preserve material, we create and preserve the historical record and share it with a community.
Then of course, we do spend some time at exhibitions or events like the Conference – making sure people know what we have and how to access it. Feel free to ask about what we have or what we do – just contact us through our website.
(If you’re interested in conference/party history, have a look at Alistair Cooke’s post on the Chamberlains and Birmingham – he used material from the archive to write it)