The collection gives use an insight into how the politics of European integration changed over the course of the United Kingdom’s 47-year membership of the European Union and its predecessors. During the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, the Conservative Party adopted a strongly pro-European position. This can be seen in the Party’s 1984 publication Questions and Answers on Europe, produced by the Conservative Research Department for that year’s elections [CPA PUB 334/8 – pictured below]. Although stressing the need to reform the Community budget and rein in spending, Questions and Answers also champions an extension of the EEC’s role into the areas of financial services and pollution controls.Thirty years later, and the evolution in the Party’s thinking can be seen clearly. The Conservative Party European Election Manifesto 2014 (the Party’s final European manifesto, as none was produced for the 2019 elections) placed a rejection of the European Union’s status quo front-and-centre [CPA PUB 332/8 – pictured below]. Insisting that the EU was ‘too bureaucratic and too undemocratic’, Prime Minister David Cameron used the manifesto to pledge that the Party would deliver an in-out referendum on the question of Britain’s membership, setting the stage for the Brexit vote in 2016. The collection is therefore a valuable resource for researchers working on Britain’s relations with the European Union, as well as for historians of British Party politics. Also included in the updated catalogue are the Conservative Party Archive’s collections of European election addresses and ephemera. Prior to 1999, British Members of the European Parliament were elected on an individual constituency basis using the same system as in elections to the House of Commons. The election addresses of Conservative candidates therefore not only provide us with an insight into the course of specific election campaigns, but also serve as a source more generally for how MEPs sought to present their work to the wider public. The inclusion of election addresses from other parties means that the series also serves as a useful resource for the history of British politics more generally, for instance in charting the unexpected rise of the Green Party in 1989. For full details of our holdings on the Conservative Party’s European Election publications, please view our online catalogue, accessible here.
Among the highlights of the new catalogue are the papers of the Conservative Delegation leaders in the European Parliament. These includes the correspondence of Sir Henry Plumb, Chairman of the European Democratic Group from 1982-1987 and 1994-1996, and the only British politician to ever serve as President of the European Parliament. Plumb’s papers include exchanges of letters with senior politicians in Britain, Europe, and the wider world, and are a fantastic resource for studying the politics of European integration in the 1980s.Also included in the new catalogue are the Conservative Delegation’s meeting papers, with detailed minutes for the late-1970s and 1980s. The records of these meetings, which took place on a regular basis during sittings of the European Parliament, provide us with a interesting insight into the work of Conservative MEPs during this period, as well as serving as a source for the wider politics of the period. The files also contain a number of documents of historical interest, including a detailed transcript of a meeting between Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Delegation in January 1980 (pictured below). Of likely further interest to historians are the records of the European Democratic Group’s ‘Study Day’ conferences. These meetings were held several times a year with the aim of drawing up policies for the Conservatives Delegation, particularly in relation to the future development of the European Community. In many cases the files still contain the discussion papers debated at the meetings, which can provide us with a fascinating insight into the evolution of Conservative thinking on European integration over the course of the 1980s. In total, the collection includes nearly 300 boxes of archival material, with records spanning from 1971 through to 2015. All files dating up to 1989 (excepting those restricted for reasons of data protection) are available for consultation, and going forward we plan to make additional files available on an annual basis under the 30-year rule.
For full details of the material available, please view our catalogue on the Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts platform, available here.