|Gervais Rentoul, MP for Lowestoft, 1922-1934, and first chairman of the 1922 Committee|
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.
|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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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”.
1st January every year sees a new tranche of files de-classified by the Conservative Party Archive under the 30-year rule. This year, 403 files dating up to 31stDecember 1982 are newly available; in addition, many more are available by permission of Conservative Campaign Headquarters: Files de-classified 01-01-2013
On Saturday, the Telegraph published an article on Gavin Welby, father of the next Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Although the article focuses largely on his past marriages and alcohol dependency, it does in fact have links to the Conservative Party Archive. The article mentions libel charges brought against Gavin Welby; he was the Conservative Candidate for Coventry East in 1951, and was accused of libel by his Labour opponent, Richard Crossman. Crossman had been misquoted in a pamphlet produced by the local Conservative agent; the pamphlet claimed he said, ‘Labour is not fit to govern the country when it so palpably mismanaging its own internal affairs’.
Although the writ for libel was brought against Welby, it appears that he had not actually seen the quotation in the pamphlet before it went to press.
The pamphlet was printed but not distributed, and Welby made an apology to Crossman and published it in the local paper. Crossman withdrew the writ.