Tag Archives: David Cameron

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2022

Letter Books of David Cameron during his years as head of the Political Section of the Conservative Research Department (CRD), opinion research collected on the strengths and weaknesses of John Major as new leader of the Party, monitoring of opposition parties, including of Militant Labour MP Terry Fields, and an insight into the post and telephone calls received by the Correspondence Section of CRD, are among newly-available Conservative Party Archive files released by the Bodleian under the thirty-year-rule.

Following on from recent years, a large proportion of our new releases are from our collections of CRD files, including subject briefings, letter books of desk officers and subject specialists, and CRD files covering topics such as environmental policy, opinion research, opposition monitoring, and local and by-election preparations. Alongside these CRD files we will also be releasing papers, correspondence and memoranda from the Local Government Department of Conservative Central Office (CCO), Conservatives in the European Parliament, and the Conservative International Office, amongst other material.

This blog post will explore a number of highlights of the newly-released material, demonstrating their value for researchers and historians interested in the Conservative Party and/or British political history in general.

David Cameron’s Letter Books, 1990-1991

The first highlight of this year’s new releases are a number of David Cameron’s letter books from his time as head of the Political Section of CRD, a position he held between 1989 and 1992. Cameron was responsible for monitoring the policies and activities of other political parties, as well as assisting Central Office with the preparation of speaking campaigns, party political and other broadcasts. These letter books therefore give a fascinating insight into the early political career of the former Prime Minister, while also providing details on the Party’s process for monitoring opposition parties and preparing speeches for important figures. This first image shows a couple of examples of memoranda prepared by Cameron in early 1991, illustrating his important role in election planning in the lead up to the 1992 General Election. They reveal some of the key aspects of preparing intelligence on opposition parties, including creating profiles on opposition candidates and monitoring their media statements.

Memoranda written by David Cameron for CRD, planning the monitoring of opposition parties in the run up to the 1992 General Election – CPA CRD/L/5/6/6.

Cameron’s letter books (see files CRD/L/5/6/1-11) include a large quantity of similar files, as well as correspondence with other CRD members, speeches and press releases he prepared for various members of the Party, including the Chairman and Deputy Chairman, and papers and briefings attacking the Labour Party. These should prove a useful resource for researchers, giving detailed examples of the inside workings of the Research Department in the lead up to a general election, and the processes involved in dealing with the opposition. Another example of the items included in these letter books is this handwritten note providing feedback on a series of leaflets created for local government elections in 1990, Cameron advising that the leaflets should ‘remind people that Labour opposed our reforms’, especially as ‘those reforms have proved popular!’, referring to various changes in council services, education, and the NHS.

Note from David Cameron to David Trowbridge (Head of the Local Government Department of CCO), giving feedback on a series of leaflets being prepared for local government elections – CPA CRD/L/5/6/6.

Opposition Monitoring, 1983-1991

In addition to Cameron’s monitoring of other political parties within his role at CRD, this year’s releases contain a range of other files relating to opposition monitoring, particularly of the Labour Party. As noted above, profiles were created of opposition MPs, media regularly trawled through, and opposition speeches and public meetings attended, in order to provide the Conservative Party with crucial information and ammunition. Here is an example of one of many booklets and briefings created by the Research Department which sought to undermine the promises of the Labour Party, highlighting clearly the areas where the voting record of Labour MPs had clashed with their claims.

‘What they claim…and how they voted’ booklet created by CRD to highlight the false promises of the Labour Party – CPA CRD/5/11/1/8.

Alongside the large number of files providing an insight into this opposition monitoring of the Labour Party, we have a particularly notable newly available file which focuses entirely on one MP, Terry Fields. Since CRD’s creation in 1929, few, if any, other Opposition MPs have warranted their own file being kept on them, but due to his membership of Militant, a Trotskyist group in the British Labour Party which came to the fore in 1982 when the Labour-led Liverpool City Council adopted Militant policies, Fields was the exception. As part of this group, Fields, who was Labour MP for Liverpool Broadgreen from 1983 to 1992, was closely monitored until 1991 when he was jailed for refusing to pay his Poll Tax bill and shortly afterwards expelled from the Labour Party by Neil Kinnock. Within this file, CRD/4/16/27, the Research Department kept copies of his regular press-releases, extracts from Hansard containing his contributions in Parliament, and cuttings from newspapers of all leanings, including Militant.

Article from the Daily Telegraph on 3 May 1988 about the involvement of Terry Fields in a strike of school children against the Social Services Bill – CPA CRD/4/16/27.

Post and telephone calls received by the Party, 1988-1991

A significant part of the work of CRD desk officers was receiving and responding to correspondence from the general public in response to Party policies, news headlines, or requesting answers to a whole range of questions. Amongst the newly released material for 2022 are many files illustrating the types of correspondence frequently received and the topics which most interested the general public during the late 1980s and early 1990s. 1991 was John Major’s first full year as Prime Minister, during which he announced the abolition of the deeply unpopular Community Charge, entered British troops into the Gulf War, and sought to fight off the long-lasting recession, all themes which feature in these files. A couple of files in particular, CRD/D/10/3/6 and CRD/L/5/11/1, provide good summaries of the post and telephone calls received by the Correspondence Section of CRD, the two examples below demonstrating the degree of public response to various key issues of the time, including Thatcher’s resignation, the Community Charge, Edwina Currie’s resignation over the Salmonella controversy, and low pension levels.

Summary of post received by the Political Office at the end of 1988 and beginning of 1989 – CPA CRD/D/10/3/6.

Summary of phone calls received by the Correspondence Section of CRD on 21 November 1990, the day before Thatcher announced her resignation – CPA CRD/L/5/11/1.

Opinion Research, 1990-1991

A final important part of the operations of CRD was gathering information on the opinion of the public, especially when it came to important policy issues and opinion of party leaders. The latter seems to have been particularly important in 1991 as the Party sought to understand and promote their new leader after Thatcher’s eleven and a half years in office. In order to accurately understand how the general public viewed Major, particularly in comparison to the leader of the opposition, in March 1991 CCO commissioned the Harris Research Centre to undertake qualitative research to ‘examine the relative strengths and weaknesses of Mr Major and Mr Kinnock, mainly in terms of their style and personality, amongst weak Conservative voters’. The leaders were compared against a range of personality characteristics, including ‘likeable’, ‘confident’, ‘statesmanlike’ and ‘waffly’, with qualitative responses also recorded. This image shows a summary of Major’s positive characteristics which were mentioned during the survey, for instance describing him as ‘quietly powerful’ and ‘genuine’, giving the Party a good sense of public opinion and a strong position from which to promote certain characteristics and downplay others.

Results of the Harris Research Centre’s research into the personalities and styles of Major and Kinnock – CPA CRD/5/10/4.

All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2022. See the full list of de-restricted items here:        http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/archivesandmanuscripts/wp-content/uploads/sites/161/2021/12/Files-de-restricted-on-2022-01-01.pdf

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2021

Conservative Research Department (CRD) briefings on the poll tax, the Gulf War, and the UK’s entry into the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), plans and correspondence surrounding publicity of the poll tax, preparations for local elections and by-elections, and think tank research notes on a range of important topical issues, are among newly-available Conservative Party Archive files released by the Bodleian under the thirty-year-rule.

As in previous years, many of our new releases are drawn from our collections of CRD files, including policy briefings prepared for Members of Parliament, opposition monitoring files, publicity for the poll tax, and preparations for local and by-elections. This year we will also be releasing research notes from the Progress Trust think tank, available to consult for the first time, as well as correspondence, papers and meeting notes from Conservatives in the European Parliament and the Women’s Organisation of the Conservative Party.

This blog post will briefly examine some of the highlights included in the newly-released files, illustrating their value for researchers of the Conservative Party and historians of British political history.

Conservative Research Department Briefings, 1990

This year’s releases under the thirty-year rule include a wide range of policy briefings prepared by the Research Department. These briefings, generally prepared for Conservative MPs and Peers ahead of parliamentary debates, provide an important insight into the Party’s thinking and their strategy when dealing with key issues of the day. Notable subjects covered by the briefings being released this year include the poll tax, the short-lived entrance of the UK into the ERM, and the Gulf War. Among these briefings are also those written by David Cameron as Head of the Political Section of the CRD from 1989 to 1992 (see file CRD/B/23/10 for his Political Information briefs, including handwritten annotations).

A selection of CRD briefings from the Environment file, covering the Community Charge, including answers to topical questions, explanations of the safety net, rebates and transitional relief, and criticisms of Labour policy – CPA CRD/B/11/9.

Other topics included in the briefs from 1990 include the economy, environment, education, foreign and home affairs, and transport, all valuable resources for those studying specific or general aspects of the Thatcher era.

CRD briefing from the Environment file entitled ‘Global Warming and World Climate Change’, including quotes from a speech made by Margaret Thatcher to the United Nations – CPA CRD/B/11/9.

Poll Tax Publicity

The introduction and fall-out from the widely criticised Community Charge (commonly known as the ‘poll tax’) dominated the late Thatcher years, and as a result this year’s de-restrictions contain many files discussing it, providing a fascinating insight into how the Party responded to criticisms and tried to combat the negative electoral impact of the new tax. These files include not only the comprehensive briefings mentioned above, but also Research Department preparation for advertising and party-political broadcasts to promote and provide more information on the poll tax. File CPA CRD 5/10/3 includes various drafts of a proposed local government advertising campaign which was tested using research groups, in the form of propositions with supporting facts. The image below shows an annotated copy of a plan for this campaign, giving historians of this era a useful insight into how the Party viewed misinformation as a key factor in the discontent surrounding the tax, and the methods they used to try and tackle this.

Annotated copy of a proposed local government advertising campaign to combat the negative public opinion of the poll tax – CPA CRD 5/10/3.

Also among newly-available files highlighting the poll tax as a high priority issue during local election campaigning, file CPA CRD 5/17/2/4 comprises drafts of a script for the Local Government Party Political Broadcast on 2 May 1990. The script involves a husband and wife dispelling numerous misconceptions about the poll tax, for instance the husband saying “I thought the whole idea was everybody pays the same” and his wife explaining “That everybody who can pay, pays something, yes. But not all the same. I mean students like young Tom get 80% off their poll tax”.

Local Elections and By-Elections Papers and Briefings

A particularly strong area in this year’s releases are Research Department files on local elections and by-elections in 1990. These files include large briefing packs for local elections, briefings and papers for by-elections, and various correspondence. Such files would be particularly useful for any historians of the specific locations of these by-elections, including Bradford North, Bootle, and Eastbourne, as well as anyone studying the policies of the Thatcher era in general.

Further, the image below demonstrates how these files can give an interesting insight into how the Party prepared for elections in Labour strongholds.

Briefing on ‘Lines to Take’ in the event of different election outcomes, Bradford North By-election file – CPA CRD/5/21/6.

Ebury Research Notes, 1989-1990

A further highlight of the releases this year are the Ebury research notes produced by the Progress Trust think tank. These research notes should prove to be a highly useful resource for historians of the period, with a vast range of topics covered.

The images below give an insight into the types of topics covered by these notes. With the House of Commons being first broadcast to the public in November 1989, the research note on the right gives suggestions as to how MPs should and shouldn’t behave, concluding “In short, forget the traditions of the House of Commons; forget that it used to be your place of work. It is now a place where you are on show. Bad luck.” This file (CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1) also includes notes on a whole host of further topics, such as the poll tax (with research notes on the reasons for unpopularity, possible remedies, and ideas for reforming the poll tax), the popularity of Thatcher, the environment, education, and the economy.

Ebury Research Notes on Nigel Lawson’s Resignation and Televising Parliament – CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1.

These notes also comprise interesting information on relations with Europe, another highly contentious issue of the day. The images below show a research note on the issue of Britain’s membership of, and relationship with, the European Economic Community (EEC), a useful source for anyone studying the history of Britain’s, and the Party’s, relationship with Europe.

Ebury Research Note on Britain’s membership of the EEC – CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1.

Ebury Research Note on Britain’s membership of the EEC – CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1.

All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2021. 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.

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2020

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].

Image shows Draft copies of the Conservative Party manifesto for the 1989 European Elections, Feb 1989. The copy on the right is under a covering letter from Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Draft copies of the Conservative Party manifesto for the 1989 European Elections, Feb 1989. The copy on the right is under a covering letter from Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. [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.

Opposition Monitoring

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].

Images shows 'Labour Briefing' memoranda produced by the Conservative Research Department, 29 Jan 1988.

‘Labour Briefing’ memoranda produced by the Conservative Research Department, 29 Jan 1988. [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.

Image shows Conservative Research Department reports on the Green Party's annual conference, prepared by David Cameron, Sep 1989.

Conservative Research Department reports on the Green Party’s annual conference, prepared by David Cameron, Sep 1989. [CPA CRD 4/16/65].

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].

Images shows briefing note prepared for Margaret Thatcher by Brendan Bruce, the Party’s Director of Communications, ahead of the 1989 Conservative Party Conference.

Briefing note prepared for Margaret Thatcher by Brendan Bruce, the Party’s Director of Communications, ahead of the 1989 Conservative Party Conference, n.d. 1989. [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.

Image shows Conservative Central Office Local Government Department file on the political impact of the Community Charge (Poll Tax), 1989.

Conservative Central Office Local Government Department file on the political impact of the Community Charge (Poll Tax), 1989. [CPA CCO 130/6/38].

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.

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2019

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.

Minutes and papers of the European Steering Committee – CPA CRD 4/30/3/1.

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.

A selection of CRD briefings from the Environment and Local Government file, covering the Community Charge, Section 28, and Acid Rain – CPA CRD/B/11/7.

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.

Two CRD briefings on Energy Privatisation written by David Cameron – CPA CRD/B/10/8.

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].

Annotated drafts of an election leaflet for William Hague, the Party’s candidate in the 1989 Richmond By-election – 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].

Robin Harris file on Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 Party Conference speech, including draft speech sections – CPA 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.

Robin Harris memoranda on the Party’s response to the Westland Affair – CPA CRD/D/10/1/11.

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.

Prime Minister praises CPA poster book Dole Queues and Demons

David Cameron offered praise for the Conservative Party Archive’s recent publication Dole Queues and Demons: British Election Posters from the Conservative Party Archive. The book brings together nearly 200 election posters from the Archive’s vast collection; the posters are accompanied by commentary from Dr Stuart Ball of the University of Leicester.

Dr Ball received the Prime Minister’s congratulations for the ‘wonderful book’. In a letter to the University’s vice-chancellor Professor Sir Robert Burgess, Cameron wrote:

‘It’s a wonderful book and very good of you to have thought to send it to me.

I thoroughly enjoyed looking through it. It’s fascinating to see how political imagery has changed so much over the years, while so many of the themes – family aspiration, strong nation, good leadership – have remained the same.’

The book is available through Bodleian Library Publishing and through all major retailers. For the full story, see the This Is Leicestershire. The Conservative Party Archive Poster Collection is available at no cost on the CPA website.

Prime Minister praises Bodleian

In yesterday’s speech on tourism at the Serpentine Gallery, Prime Minister David Cameron praised the Bodleian Library as one of the highlights of Britain’s cultural legacy – and a great tourist attraction!

People sometimes characterise culture as a choice between old and new; between classical or pop, great heritage or modern art. But in Britain it’s not one or the other, it’s both. It’s Glyndebourne and Glastonbury. The Bristol Old Vic and the Edinburgh Fringe. The Bodleian Library and the Hay literary festival. Ascot and the Millennium Stadium; Nelson’s column and the Olympic Park’s Orbit.

We have so much to be proud of so much to share with each other and so much to show off to the rest of the world.

(Full speech available from Number 10)