Tag Archives: Poll tax

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.