Tag Archives: Conservative Party

The 1923 General Election

 

Junior Imperial League Gazette

Junior Imperial League Gazette, Dec 1923, p.7 [PUB 199/2]

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, surprised many when she announced her intention to call a UK general election to be held this Thursday, 8 June 2017. The ‘snap’ election came as a shock not least because, as she acknowledged in her announcement, since becoming Prime Minister she had made it clear that she did not anticipate any election before the next scheduled general election in 2020. A combination of Westminster ‘game playing’, which might weaken her government’s hand in Brexit preparations and negotiations, and the fact that talks would otherwise reach a critical stage in the run up to the next scheduled election, led Mrs May to conclude that it was in the national interest to hold an election after all and by so doing remove possible uncertainty or instability with regard to the country’s future. So the electorate is being asked to provide Mrs May and her Conservative government with a direct mandate to settle the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, leaving it “free to chart its own way in the world” (regaining control of our money, laws, and borders with the opportunity to strike our own trade deals). Surely few can have missed the campaign mantra ‘strong and stable leadership’ versus a ‘coalition of chaos’ (Labour propped up by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalist Parties).

So, as we look forward to the results of this week’s ‘snap’ general election it might be interesting to look back to a previous ‘snap’ election, specifically the general election called by Stanley Baldwin in 1923.

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Parliament Week: Britain and Europe: Britain’s third (and final) attempt to join the EC, 1970-73

Britain’s two previous attempts to join the European Community – in 1963 and 1967 – had been humiliatingly rejected by the French. Two British prime ministers – Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson – had both failed. Brought to power in the 1970 elections a new leader, Ted Heath, was determined to have a third try. But Heath faced two massive challenges: negotiating a place for Britain in Europe, and bringing the British public with him.

Like so much related to the history of Britain’s relationship with Europe, the story of Britain’s three attempts to join the EC are largely forgotten by the general public. Yet, as well as fundamentally changing the course of British post-war history, they can clearly inform current discussion of Britain’s place in Europe.

Getting in

So, what had changed between 1967 and 1973? First, and perhaps most important, was the fall from power of General de Gaulle. De Gaulle, who had vetoed both British applications, was a victim of the 1968 student protest which forced him from the office he had held for a decade; in his place, the new president Georges Pompidou was considerably more sympathetic.

Brought to power in the 1970 general election, the Conservative government of Ted Heath decided that the time was right to revive the application that had been left dormant in 1967 after the veto. For Heath, the domestic pressures for Britain to enter the EC were just as powerful as they had been for Wilson. The lack of export markets for British industry was becoming an ever-greater problem and hastened the decline of British living standards. In 1945, Britons had been 90 percent better off than citizens of ‘the Six’; by 1969, they were six percent poorer.

Negotiations opened in June 1970 alongside parallel negotiations with Britain’s traditional allies Ireland and Denmark. In January 1972, Heath finally signed the accession treaty in Brussels.

Party and people

The diplomatic negotiations were just the first obstacle that Heath faced; bringing Britain into Europe would also require the support of his party and the British electorate. This was a challenge that faced the Conservative Whips as they tried to make sure that enough MPs would vote with the government to pass the European Communities Act – the piece of legislation that was finalise the negotiations. It is on this aspect that many of the papers held by the Conservative Party Archives at the Bodleian focus.

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Report and Analysis of the State of the Party’ (c. Jan 1971).

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Report and Analysis of the State of the Party’ (c. Jan 1971).

The Conservative Party, which had stood on a pro-European platform since Macmillan, clearly had a parliamentary mandate if only its MPs could be brought on-side. Looking at the Conservative Party’s 326 MPs in January 1971, the Whip’s Office was not entirely happy with what they saw. At least 218 could be counted on to support the government’s position but 75 were ‘in doubt’ and 33 ‘against’. Although comparatively small in number, the 33 (not to mention the large in-doubt contingent) could stop the government getting the votes it needed to pass the bill, especially considering the divided and disorganised state of Labour. The judgement on the 33 was pretty damning: ‘a hard core of right-wingers, backed up by some Powellites, Ulster members, a handful of new Members, and one or two who for specialist reasons oppose entry…[and] 15 of the anti’s come from the old brigade…who have always been against the Market and always will be.’ (CCO 20/32/28) By August 1971, when the terms of the negotiations had become clear, there was a big rallying to the government’s side. Just 21 were estimated to be implacably hostile and almost all of the undecideds had been won over. The Whips were also delighted to note that this rallying ‘has taken place in the House, in the Parliamentary Party; it has also taken place in the Conservative Party outside the House and amongst voters as a whole.’ (CCO 20/32/28)

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Third Report and Analysis on the State of the Party on Common Market Issue. August 1, 1971’.

Some voters writing into the party expressed their concerns whilst others wrote in support. Ultimately, however, the issue remained unsolved and the public divided. With the Labour Party also ambivalent towards Europe (a radical change of direction), confrontation was inevitable. In 1974, new elections brought Labour back to power with the promise that continued British membership of the EC would be decided by referendum. The result – a surprise 60 percent majority in favour of staying – guaranteed Britain’s role as a major player in European integration for almost half a century.

Guy Bud

2016 Conservative Party Conference

The 2016 Conservative Party Conference was held at Birmingham’s International Conference Centre (2-5 October) and, as in previous years, the Conservative Party Archive was there.

Jeremy McIlwaine (Conservative Party Archivist) and myself left behind the quiet confines of the Bodleian Library where the collection is housed and took a very small number of items from the Archive ‘on tour’.

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The 1975 Referendum on Europe

Car campaign sticker

[Car campaign sticker, CCO 508/11/9-16]

The United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community (as it then was) on 1 January 1973 after negotiations by the Conservative government led by Edward Heath. In the run up to the subsequent 1974 General Election the Labour Party pledged, in its manifesto, the United Kingdom’s first nationwide referendum on whether to stay part of the Economic Community on renegotiated terms or to completely part company. With a Labour victory, the new Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, followed through on his promise and a referendum was held on 5 Jun 1975. The outcome was an overwhelming victory (67%) for the ‘In’ campaign.

The 1975 vote in favour of Europe did not, however, end the debate on the United Kingdom’s membership of what is now a much expanded European Union.  As we await the results of a second referendum on whether to ‘remain’ or to ‘leave’ on 23 June, the Conservative Party Archive provides much research material to those interested in exploring the Party’s position with regard to the 1975 EU referendum and toward the EEC/EU more generally during this period.

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John Rathbone MP, 1910-1940

Blenheim iv

[Above, a Bristol Blenheim Mark IV bomber, of the type flown by Flying Officer John R. Rathbone in 1940]

At 4.08am on the morning of 9th December, 1940, Flying Officer* John Rankin Rathbone took off from RAF Bodney in Norfolk, the pilot of a Bristol Blenheim Mark IV bomber, on a mission to bomb the German-occupied port of Antwerp. Sadly, his aircraft was shot down over Antwerp and Rathbone, along with his two crew members, Pilot Officer F.W. McMurray and Sergeant A.M. Birt, were killed. Rathbone became the sixth of 24 MPs who were to be killed in action during the course of the Second World War.

Rathbone was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bodmin, Cornwall where he was elected at the 1935 General Election. Visiting Nazi Germany as part of a parliamentary delegation in 1938, he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve immediately upon his return home. He was mobilised as soon as War broke out, in September 1939.

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[Above, Rathbone’s election address to his Bodmin constituents, 1935 – Shelfmark: PUB 229/7/8. Election addresses for all Parliamentary candidates, all parties, and constituencies, 1922-1983 are included in the Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian Library].

As an MP he was not exempt from military service, but in his last speech in the House of Commons, on 20th August, 1940, Rathbone criticised the effect on Home Front morale of the arbitrariness by which ‘Reserved Occupation’ status was designated. He also attacked the excessive ‘red tape’ imposed under wartime conditions (‘It should not really be necessary to fill up a form in triplicate, before you can get a window pane repaired.’) , and the inequality of promotion within the Services:

When I think of some of the people who wear stripes and pips and get their promotion by various ways and means, through friends and so on, it makes me wonder whether, not only in the fighting Services but in the Civil Service and in every walk of like, promotion is given, not for birth or money, nor yet for age, but purely for efficiency. This war will not have been worth fighting if we do not at least establish that principle. Promotion in any walk of life, in the Civil Service or in politics, should not be for the length of time a person has served but for the efficiency with which he has served. Promotion should be given on these grounds alone.

Rathbone was born in 1910 and attended Eton and Christ Church, Oxford where he met Beatrice Frederika Clough, whom he married in 1932. After 4 years as an MP he obtained a junior ministerial position as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply in Chamberlain’s government, in July 1939.

Upon mobilisation, he was posted to RAF (Volunteer Reserve) No. 82 Squadron, a light-bomber squadron which had been reconstituted at the outbreak of War. By the time Rathbone joined the squadron it had already seen action in France, and both during and after the Dunkirk evacuation had suffered appalling casualties. Following its re-deployment to RAF Bodney in Norfolk it attacked German-held airfields in France and the Low Countries, and occasionally Denmark. One notorious raid on a German airfield at Aalborg, Denmark, on 13th August resulted in 11 of 12 Blenheims being shot down, with the twelfth surviving only because the pilot had returned early, for which he had been due to face a court-martial before he was killed during another operation the following week.

No. 82 Squadron’s Blenheims were outclassed by the modern fighters being fielded by the Luftwaffe, and the high casualty rate contributed towards Bomber Command’s switch from daylight to night-time bombing. Between July-Dec 1940, Bomber Command lost nearly 330 aircraft and over 1,400 aircrew killed, missing or captured.

Blenheim on ground Blenheims in formation crashed Blenheim

[Above, photographs of No. 82 Squadron’s Blenheims including, bottom, the wreckage of  one which had been shot down being towed away. Reproduced courtesy of  Aircrewremembered.com **]

On 9th December, 1940, while most of 82 Squadron’s Blenheims were engaged in a bombing raid on Bremen docks, the Squadron’s log, now held by the National Archives at Kew, records starkly,

F/O Rathbone and his crew, who were carrying out their first operational flight, were to attack the docks at Antwerp. They did not return from the trip, and nothing was heard from them.

Rathbone and his crew were buried in Schoonselhof Cemetery, near Antwerp, and the grave is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. He is commemorated by a stained glass window in Westminster Hall and an heraldic shield in the House of Commons Chamber, and is listed on the war memorial in the entrance to Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. A silver alms dish was also donated to Liverpool Cathedral in his memory.

Rathbone_JR

[Above, photograph of Rathbone’s headstone. Reproduced courtesy of The War Graves Photographic Project]

The Times reported him as ‘missing in action’ on 13th December 1940, and a memorial service was subsequently held for him at St Margaret’s, Westminster on 29th January, 1941. In the peculiar circumstances of the ‘political truce’ during the Second World War, Rathbone’s widow Beatrice was elected unopposed in his place as Conservative MP for Bodmin at the ensuing by-election on 11th March, 1941. In 1942 she re-married, though an unfortunate and ill-founded rumour that Rathbone was not in fact dead but a Prisoner-of-War circulated for some time and formed the inspiration, with very little change, for Daphne du Maurier’s 1944 play, ‘The Years Between’.

Tragically, Rathbone’s younger brother Henry, a Captain in the Scots Guards, was killed at Cassino, Italy, on 9th November, 1943. Beatrice stood down prior to the 1945 general election, while their son, also called John Rankin Rathbone but known as Tim, went on to become MP for Lewes between 1974-1997.

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[Above, Election Address of Tim Rathbone MP to his Lewes constituents, Feb 1974: Shelfmark: PUB 229/16/8]

*There is some doubt as to Rathbone’s rank at the time of his death, as the service records of RAF officers from the Second World War are not yet available. The Operations Record Book for No. 82 Squadron, completed by the Squadron’s CO Wing Commander Elworthy, listed him as a Flying Officer, as did The Times’ obituary on 13th December, 1940. However, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists him as a Flight Lieutenant.

 **Aircrewremembered.com is keen to hear from any relatives of crews lost with their stories.

Chamberlain and trout fishing

To mark the start of the new coarse fishing season today, we are featuring extracts from 80 year old correspondence between Neville Chamberlain and Joseph Ball which was recently ‘discovered’ in the Conservative Party Archive, testifying to their shared love of fishing.
The letters, between Chamberlain and the Director of the Conservative Research Department date from May-October 1934 and ostensibly concern the formation and progress of the committee set up by Chamberlain to re-invigorate the National Government, then still led by Ramsay MacDonald, with policy ideas to take forward as Government policy for the 1935 General Election.
While the exchange between the two certainly make reference to the Cabinet Conservative Committee, as it was known, much of the content focusses on trout fishing on the rivers Test in Hampshire and Lugg in Herefordshire.
Under the guidance of Chamberlain and Ball, the Cabinet Conservative Committee continued its deliberations until July 1935. The series of memoranda and reports it produced helped ensure a Conservative and National Government victory at the general election in November 1935. The result of the election, which saw MacDonald lose his seat and Baldwin replace him as Prime Minister, confirmed the dominant position of the Conservative Party within the National Government. Chamberlain himself took over the helm from 1937.
Chamberlain’s love of fly-fishing was well known. Amidst the public adulation with which he was greeted after his return from the Munich Conference after having pacified Hitler over Czechoslovakia in September 1938, Downing Street was inundated with gifts, including several fishing rods and numerous salmon flies.

Happy birthday to…the 1922 Committee

18th April sees the 90th anniversary of the formation of the 1922 Committee or, to give it is full name, the Conservative Private Members (1922) Committee, which held its first meeting on this day in 1923.
 
As Lord Norton makes clear in his just-published The Voice of the Backbenchers. The 1922 Committee: the first 90 years, 1923-2013 (Conservative History Group, 2013), the Committee was not named after the  famous meeting of Conservative MPs held at the Carlton Club in October 1922 which ended the Lloyd George coalition, but after the intake of MPs first elected at the November 1922 General Election. 
 
The 1922 Committee, now effectively the Conservative Parliamentary Party, was convened by Gervais Rentoul, MP for Lowestoft (below) who was subsequently elected as its first chairman,  ‘for the purpose of mutual co-operation and assistance in dealing with political and parliamentary questions, and in order to enable new Members to take a more active interest and part in Parliamentary life.’
 
The minutes of the 1922 Committee dating back to 1923 are held in the Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian Library, Oxford (see catalogue). 
 
Gervais Rentoul, MP for Lowestoft, 1922-1934, and first chairman of the 1922 Committee

A Tribute to Baroness Thatcher of Kevesten

Lady Thatcher, who died on Monday, was part of a distinguished line of twenty six British Prime Ministers educated at Oxford University, where she studied Chemistry at Somerville College between 1943-1947 under the supervision of Dorothy Hodgkin, with whom she continued an occasional correspondence well into the 1980s (Hodgkin Papers, and Additional Hodgkin Papers, Bodleian Library).

Her political career is fully captured in documents held within the Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian, from canvassing in Oxford during the 1945 General Election campaign and her tenure as President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1946, through her long struggle for election to Parliament, her holding of a range of junior Ministerial and Opposition posts from 1961 leading to her appointment to Heath’s Shadow Cabinet in 1967, as Education Secretary in the 1970-1974 Conservative Government, Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975, and onward through her tumultuous period as Prime Minister, 1979-1990.

Below is a chronological selection of material from the Conservative Party Archive which illustrates Thatcher’s rise through the Conservative Party ranks between 1949-1979.

Margaret Roberts was unanimously selected by the Executive Committee of Dartford on 31st January, 1949 as the only candidate of the 5 interviewed to go forward to the adoption meeting: ‘…Miss Roberts’ platform knowledge and speaking ability are far above those of the other candidates.’

 

 
 

 
Letter from Margaret Roberts to Conservative Party Vice-Chairman Miss Maxse dated 15/02/1949 which accompanied her application form to become a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate. She mentions the rejections which she had received in response to applications for research posts with Unilever and the British Oxygen Company, as well as the forthcoming adoption meeting by Dartford Conservative Association.
 

 

Reference from unknown source [2ndpage of letter missing] to JPL Thomas, Conservative Party Vice-Chairman supporting Margaret Roberts’ application to become a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate, 26/02/1949: ‘She is a good speaker, a good Chairman of Committee, gets on well with men (without resorting to the more obvious feminine arts!) and appears to be able to avoid unpopularity with her fellow women.’
 

 

 

Memorandum from Home Counties South East Area Agent Miss Cook to Mr Watson, Chief Organisation Officer, Conservative Central Office dated 14/02/1950 concerning Margaret Roberts’ outstanding performance in Dartford during the 195 General Election campaign: ‘She excels at questions, and always gives a straight and convincing answer. She is never heckled, they have too much respect for her. When the meeting ends people crowd round her – generally Socialists – to ask more questions, really genuine ones.

 

Margaret Roberts’ election address, Dartford, 1950 General Election. She was the only female candidate at that election, and at that time, the youngest ever Conservative woman to stand.
 
 
Margaret Roberts’ election address , Dartford, 1951 General Election. Despite her defeat in 1950 she was re-selected as the Conservative candidate.
 
 
Newspaper cutting from the Daily Telegraph concerning Margaret Roberts’ marriage to Dennis Thatcher, 14/12/1951
 
Article by Thatcher, ‘Wake up, Women’, published in the Sunday Graphic, 17/02/1952, advocating more women in the work-force and especially at Westmister
 
 
Memo from Area Agent Miss Cook to John Hare, Conservative Party Vice-Chairman, following her interview with Margaret Thatcher on 11/06/1952, concerning Thatcher’s renewed desire to become a parliamentary candidate following her marriage: To quote her own words – “It is no use; I must face it: I don’t like being left out of the political stream”.     
 
Letter from Thatcher to Hare dated 02/09/1953, temporarily withdrawing from politics following the birth of twins: ‘I had better not consider a candidature for at least six months’
 
Letter from Thatcher to Hare dated 13/01/1954 withdrawing ‘permanently’ from politics: ‘I have quite made up my mind to pursue Law to the exclusion of politics. Even if a winnable seat in Kentshould become free, as you suggest – I do not wish my name to be considered.’
 
Article by Thatcher entitled ‘Finding Time’, published in the Conservative Party magazine, Onward, Apr 1954 
 
 
 
Letter from Thatcher to Donald Kaberry, Conservative Party Vice-Chairman dated 28/02/1956 concerning her desire to return to politics: ‘…a little experience at the Revenue Bar and in Company matters, far from turning my attention from politics has served to draw my attention more closely to the body which is responsible for the legislation about which I have come to hold strong views.’
 
Memorandum, Home Counties North Area Agent PRG Horton to Kaberry dated 01/08/1958 confirming Thatcher’s adoption as parliamentary candidate by Finchley Conservative Association: ‘I feel that the adoption of Mrs Thatcher will prove a shot in the arm to Finchley and that we shall see great improvements there from now on.’
 
Margaret Thatcher’s election address, Finchley, 1959 General Election
 
Report of a meeting of the Chelsea Conservative Association on the subject of pensions addressed by Mrs Thatcher – under the title, ‘The blonde in the black fur coat’, featured in Light, the magazine of the Chelsea Conservative Association, (Vol. 1, No. 1), Feb 1964. Mrs Thatcher had been appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance by Macmillan in October 1961
 
 
 
Margaret Thatcher’s election address, Finchley, 1964 General Election
 
 
 
Margaret Thatcher’s election address, Finchley, 1966 General Election [In Opposition between 1964 and 1966, Thatcher was Opposition Spokesman for Land, Rates and Housing matters
 
 
The Conservative Party newsletter Monthly News, Dec 1969, featuring Thatcher’s move from Shadow Transport Minister to Shadow Education Minister
 
 
 
Margaret Thatcher’s election address, Finchley, 1970 General Election
 
 
Profile of Margaret Thatcher MP, the new Secretary of State for Education and Science, July 1970 As published in the Party newsletter, Weekly News (11th July 1970; Vol. 26, No. 22)
 
 
 
 
Margaret Thatcher’s election address, Finchley, Feb 1974 General Election
 
 
‘Control, Enterprise and Savings’ – article by Thatcher published in CPC Monthly Report(No. 101, Dec 1974), as Opposition Spokesman on Treasury and Economic Affairs
 
 
Lead article in Conservative Monthly News covering Thatcher’s replacement of Heath as Leader of the Conservative Party: ‘There is much to do. I hope you will allow me time to do it thoroughly and well.’
 
 
Article in Conservative News on the eve of the 1979 General Election: Margaret Thatcher understands ‘the hopes of ordinary people – of our desire to keep more of the money we earn, to see it hold its value, to own our own homes, to see standards raised for our children at school – and to help our country raise her head high in the world again.’
 

Romney’s riff on Labour Isn’t Working

 
Above: One of the Labour Isn’t Working series of posters from the Conservative Party Archive Poster Collection. Below: Romney’s campaign poster.
 


Those of you who are following the presidential election campaign in the US may have noticed Romney’s ‘Obama isn’t working’ campaign, launched last year. The campaign’s key poster is, as Romney calls is, a ‘tribute’ to one of the most famous British election posters. Saatchi and Saatchi’s Labour Isn’t Working poster, called the poster of the century in 1999, is still remembered by Conservatives and non-Conservatives alike. It proves one of the most popular images at each year’s Conservative Party Conference, and it appears regularly in the press as the emblem of an era.

Romney’s campaign manager Stuart Stevens wrote a blog post explaining their choice to emulate the Thatcher campaign, which called a ‘historic political poster depicting the negative economic conditions and the government’s failed attempts to correct that path’.

The original poster(s) addressed the rising rate of unemployment in Britain. The dole queue for the photo shoot was made up of Party members from Brent North and Hendon in north London. It was originally designed for an expected autumn 1978 general election; the election didn’t take place until spring 1979, and the poster was reused in various formats then.

A century of political design: Dole Queues and Demons

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.