Tag Archives: Conservative Party Archive

New releases under the 30-year rule…

The list of files from the Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian Library which will be declassified on 1st January, 2014 under the ’30-year rule’ is now available, here.
274 files have been opened up for research, encompassing all files deposited under general access restrictions whose end-date is 31st December, 1983 or earlier that year.
Being an election year, many of these files from 1983 are naturally devoted to the 1983 General Election preparations. More are preoccupied with the major policy review undertaken by the Conservative Party as it neared the end of Thatcher’s second Government, the focus of these policy groups indicating the priorities for inclusion in the next election manifesto: Promotion of Enterprise; Inner Cities; Transport; Europe; Law and Order; Tax and Social Security; Education; Employment Policy; Family; and Nationalised Industries.
Papers from the Party’s International Office provide an insight into the formation of the International Democrat Union (IDU) –  the alliance of centre-Right Conservative and Christian Democrat political parties – in London in 1983. The Conservative Party was a founding member of the IDU, which provided an international dimension to the European Democrat Union which was founded in 1978. Similarly, papers are now available on the Conservative Party’s bilateral relations with other centre-Right parties, notably in France, West Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Canada and the United States.
As with previous years’ releases, the sheer bulk of the papers now available originate with the extensive research undertaken by the Conservative Research Department. The original letter books of CRD Desk Officers and Subject Specialists which are now released, cover the policy areas of Agriculture, Defence, Economic Policy, the Environment, Europe, Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Health, Trade & Industry, and Transport. The numerous and detailed briefs prepared by the Research Department for Conservative MPs prior to parliamentary debates provide evidence of the Conservative Party’s approach to the whole range of parliamentary business during this period. 
Together these papers form the essential core material for anyone studying the early Thatcher years. Anyone interested in consulting these papers may do so by contacting the Archivist.



Mrs Thatcher’s New Year message, published in the January 1983 edition of Conservative Newsline [Shelfmark: PUB 124/4]
‘Notes on Disarmament and East/West Relations’ by Robin Turner, the Conservative Research Department Desk Officer for Defence and Foreign Affairs, 15th November, 1983. In 1983 the Cold War was at its height and saw not only US Cruise missiles being sited in the UK for the first time, but discussions over replacement of the UK’s Polaris nuclear deterrent by Trident. [Shelfmark: CRD/L/4/56/16]

Conservative speeches ‘erased’ by the Party safe at the Bodleian Library!

Following the furore over the past two days concerning the revelation in Computer Weekly that the Conservative Party has ‘attempted to erase a 10-year backlog of speeches’ by removing them from its www.conservatives.com website, the Conservative Party Archive seeks to allay the fears expressed by a number of historians and political commentators.
Both the BBC and The Guardian amongst others have reproduced this story, giving the impression of a deliberate attempt by the Conservatives to purge ten years’ worth of past speeches likely to cause embarrassment. However, as disappointing as it may seem to many conspiracy theorists, these speeches are all safely in our care at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and still freely available to anyone who wishes to consult them.
Following on from The Guardian’s reassurance to its readers yesterday that David Cameron’s speech to the Google Zeitgeist Europe Conference in 2006 can still be found on the Guardian’s website, we would like to add that it, this speech (reproduced in full below in its original form), as well as transcripts of tens of thousands of other Conservative Party speeches, can still be found in the Conservative Party Archive, as you would expect. And the Bodleian, with its 400 year-old pedigree, is unlikely to fall prey to the short-term whims of website editors:
[David Cameron’s speech to Google Zeitgeist Europe, 22/05/2006] 
These speeches have been transferred periodically by Conservative Campaign Headquarters since the CPA was established at the Bodleian in 1978. The most recent transfer of speeches was made in May 2010.
Further, over the past couple of years the CPA has been putting together a database of these speeches which will shortly be made available online via our own website, with the intention of opening up these speeches more fully to academic research. This database contains not only those speeches back to 2000, but all those held back to the late 1940s. Earlier speeches dating back to the 1893 are also held, being dutifully recorded and published in the Party’s official journal of record National Union Gleanings (from 1912, known as Gleanings & Memoranda, from which this blog takes its name). Extracts from the draft database, providing lists of speeches held by specific individuals, are already available upon request, prior to it going live.
Ultimately, when funds allow, the intention is to enable free-text searching of all the Party’s vast number of speeches, online, and free-of-charge.
Both the Conservative Party Archive Trust and the Bodleian Library are committed to improving access to, and promoting use of, the rich documentary heritage of the Conservative Party which is in its care.

Everest expedition remembered…from the pages of ‘The Imp’

In this 60th anniversary year of Hillary and Tenzing’s successful ascent of Everest in 1953, The Conservative Party Archive looks back to an attempt made 20 years earlier, which was publicised in the May 1933 issue of The Imp. 

In May 1933, Hugh Ruttledge, then a 43 year-old with a long career in the Indian Civil Service was chosen to lead the first British attempt on the mountain since the ill-fated expedition of Mallory and Irvine in 1924 which had cost both men their lives. The Imp was the monthly newsletter of the Junior Imperial League – the Conservative Party’s youth wing which was re-modelled after the War as the Young Conservatives.

Interestingly, Ruttledge, who went on to lead a second attempt on Everest in 1936, had rejected Tenzing Norgay for the Sherpa team which accompanied him.

[The Imp and the records of the Junior Imperial League from its creation in 1906 until its reorganisation as the Young Conservatives in 1946, are held in the Conservative Party Archive, at the Bodleian Library, Oxford]

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.’

50 years ago: The Profumo Affair

Profumo’s election address from 1950, when he was elected for Stratford-upon-Avon

On 22 March 1963, British Secretary of State for War John Profumo made a statement in the House of Commons in which he declared, ‘There was no impropriety whatsoever in my acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler’. Profumo had been implicated in an affair with Christine Keeler, a model whose relationship with a senior Soviet naval attaché made her connection to the Secretary of State for War concerning (read the full statement on the Hansard website).

In June 1963, Profumo resigned, admitting that he had misled the House in his testimony. The scandal rocked the Party and damaged the reputation of its leader, Harold Macmillan. Macmillan resigned due to ill health in October 1963; many felt the crisis had played a role in his illness. The reports surrounding the 1963 Conservative Party Conference include motions of support from various constituencies, though letters from area agents and the public in the summer of 1963 show mixed feelings.

The Archive contains relatively little about the affair, but there are a few bits and pieces that shed light on the Party’s stance. The Party conducted a survey to determine how sentiment towards Prime Minister Macmillan had changed; although it showed that 44% (59% of Labour supporters) called for a General Election, the survey report indicated little concern, stating that it showed that ‘the immediate effects of the Profumo crisis on the popularity of the Government and on the personal popularity of the Prime Minister may have been exaggerated.’ Various meeting minutes make it clear that the affair was discussed in detail, if not the details of the discussion.  

National Opinion Poll on the effect of the Profumo crisis (CCO 180/25/2/1)

Though the scandal eventually blew over, its effects were far flung and contributed to significant changes in Party leadership. It has been reintroduced to the public through various films, plays, songs and memoirs, from the 1989 film Scandal to mentions in tracks by Billy Joel and The Clash.

Profumo retired from politics after his resignation, but devoted the remainder of his life to volunteer work in London’s East End. He died in 2006.

Beveridge and the British Welfare State

Today marks 50 years since the death of William Beveridge, the British econonomist and social reformer whose Beveridge Report formed the basis of Britain’s welfare state.

We’ve covered Beveridge’s report before on this blog, and we encourage you to take a look at  the full story.

Upcoming events in Oxford: Jim Callaghan Remembered & Alistair Cooke on Enoch Powell

There are a handful of upcoming events in Oxford that may be of interest to historians and those with an interest in Conservative Party History.

Jim Callaghan Remembered
5.30pm, 7 March 2013
Bodleian Library
A joint event staged by the Bodleian Library, the History Faculty, University of Oxford, and Oxford University Press/Oxford Dictionary of National Biography marking the life of Jim Callaghan, Baron Callaghan (1912-2005).

A leading campaigner against British colonialism during the 1950s, Callaghan became one of the key figures in the Wilson governments, 1964-70 and 1974-76, holding all three of the most senior Cabinet posts: Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, and Foreign Secretary. From 1976 to 1979 he served as Prime Minister. In retirement he was an active Elder Statesman. His private papers in the Bodleian Library are a major historical resource.

Speakers include Baroness Jay, Lord Hattersley, Lord Morgan, and Andrew Smith, MP. The event will be chaired by Dr Lawrence Goldman, editor of Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

This event is free and open to all.

There will be a reception at 6.45pm in the Divinity School at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

For further information, please see the event page.

Enoch at 100: A Re-evaluation of the Life, Politics and Philosophy of Enoch Powell
Part of the Oxford Literary Festival
Alistair Cooke and Frank Field (chaired by Richard Ritchie)
2pm, 20 March 2013

Alistair Cooke, Lord Lexden, joins Frank Field in an examination of the life and politics of Enoch Powell, who would have been 100 years old in 2012. Both politicians have contributed to Enoch at 100, a collection of essays to mark the anniversary of the birth of one of the 20th century’s most controversial politicians. The essays aim to judge whether Powell’s views still have relevance today and cover areas such as the European Union, constitutional reform, immigration and social cohesion, and defence and foreign policy.

Alistair Cooke, Lord Lexden, is a political historian and official historian of the Conservative Party and occasional contributor to this blog. Frank Field is the well-known Labour MP for Birkenhead. The conversation is chaired by Richard Ritchie, archivist for Enoch Powell, editor of two books of Enoch Powell’s speeches, and also a contributor to Enoch at 100.

To book a place, please visit the Oxford Literary Festival page for the event.

40 years ago: Britain joins the EEC

On 1 January 1973, after decades of discussion and frustration, the United Kingdom became a full member of the European Economic Community.

The successful application was a long time coming. The UK had applied for membership in 1963 and 1967 but had been rejected – largely due to the hesitance of Charles de Gaulle, the French president. 

In 1969, the Party explored the issues involved in further negotiations, estimating that a conservative estimate would extend them until 1971 (LCC 1/2/17)

When Edward Heath became Prime Minister in 1970, he continued to press for membership. In July 1971, Heath told a Central Council meeting, ‘We believe, as we stated in the White Paper, that our people will be more prosperous, our economy and our industries stronger as a result of joining the European Communities’. In fact, 1971 became a year of much discussion and consultation, from the launch of the Government’s White Paper to the vote at the Party Conference in October – the Party’s Weekly News called it ‘the summer of the Common Market. Of the great debate’ (PUB 193/23). Party members, the Opposition and the public all had many questions about what EEC membership would mean for the UK. Heath’s Central Council speech was met by no fewer than 29 detailed questions from the audience, and the Conservative Party Archive holds reams of correspondence about terms of membership, debates over the possibility of a referendum and discussion of Conservative policy. Heath stopped short of holding a referendum, however; the UK did not hold a public vote on the EU until 1975.

A question from Party members at the Central Council meeting in July 1971. Heath answered 29 questions, many in great detail (NUA 3/1/4)
A record of the vote in favour of EEC admission at the Conservative Party Conference, 13 October 1971. The motion passed by 2,474 against 324 votes (NUA 2/1/76)

On 1 January 1973, newspapers nationwide celebrated the work Heath did in bringing the UK into the EC, and the Union Jack was raised in Brussels to celebrate the occasion. Over the following months, however, the Conservatives – and indeed, the UK political body as a whole – turned to the practical issue of working as a part of the EEC government.

This was no small matter; the UK sent upwards of 1,000 civil servants to Brussels, and the Conservative Party Archive’s papers explore the negotiations and practicalities of EEC participation. The CRD, for example, proposed that its role in relation to European Parliament should be as a source of political advice as well as a liaison between backbench members and MEPs (CRD 4/22/8). Central Office explored direct elections throughout the 1970s (CCO 20/32) and debated the possibility of a referendum. British MEPs joined those from Denmark to form the European Conservative Group – later the European Democratic Group – on 16 January 1973, and some of the group’s working papers can be found in CCO 508.

The UK’s membership in the European Union remains a subject of discussion and often debate. As Cameron’s government explores the possibility of an EU referendum in coming years, the history of the UK’s membership and previous votes, the CPA provides much fodder for those interested in Conservative policy and position toward the EEC/EU. Though recent files are closed, those up to 1982 provide a rich perspective on the UK’s first few years in Europe. 

Lives remembered: Lord Rees-Mogg

In today’s Times Lord Lexden adds a postscript to Lord Rees-Mogg’s obituary, which appeared in its pages on 31 December, focusing on material gleaned from the Conservative Party Archive on Rees-Mogg’s early political aspirations. By kind permission of Lord Lexden, we reproduce his text below:

Lord Rees-Mogg (obituary, Dec.31) worked extremely hard to establish himself in politics, his first career choice. He possessed impressive credentials by the time he made his successful application to join the Conservative Party’s official candidates’ list at the end of 1955. During the general election earlier that year he travelled 1400 miles at his own expense speaking in a wide variety of constituencies, often at open air meetings. He also knocked on countless doors, believing “ personal canvassing to be of first importance”. Vigorous electioneering reassured those who might otherwise have regarded him as too intellectual as a result of the frequent lectures he delivered as part of the Party’s ambitious post-war political education programme, established by his mentor, Rab Butler, with its headquarters at Swinton  Conservative College in Yorkshire where he taught regularly.  In 1956 he became a prominent member of a policy committee on the structure and accountability of the nationalised industries, chaired by Butler( who he always believed should have become Tory leader). He declared that the time he was prepared to give the Tory Party was “ only limited by his work for the Financial Times”. As the Conservative candidate in Chester-le-Street he won golden opinions from the hard-bitten senior Party agent who oversaw his first campaign there in 1956.  “ In the closing stages of his campaign he might almost have been described as outstanding.  He was particularly strong in answering questions and always got the better of his questioner”.  Even after the 1964 general election, when surprisingly he failed to be selected for a safe seat, he still retained hopes of a parliamentary career, stressing that  he “ would give proper time to nursing a constituency” and “ would of course undertake personal canvassing”.

[CCO 1/11/58/3, William Rees-Mogg’s By-Election News, published during the Chester-le-Street by-election campaign, Sep 1956]