Conservative Party Archive
The Conservative Party Archive, based at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England is the official place of deposit for the historic records of the British Conservative Party. It was established as a centre for academic research in 1978.
It comprises an extensive range of manuscript, published and audio-visual material representing the history of the Conservative Party from the late 19th century up to the present day.
The Conservative Party Archive is owned by the Conservative Party Archive Trust and is deposited on loan with the Department of Special Collections & Western Manuscripts of the Bodleian Library which is recognised as holding one of the foremost collections of modern political papers in Britain, including the private papers of six British Prime Ministers. The cost of maintaining the Archive at the Bodleian is borne entirely by the Conservative Party Archive Trust, an educational charity, which raises funds from private donors; no financial support is received from the Conservative Party.
While the oldest papers in the Archive date back to 1867, sadly many records were lost during the wars, and a number of moves by Conservative Central Office led to the destruction of still more, particularly from the period before 1939. As a result, the Archive consists predominantly of post-Second World War material. More recent material is regularly transferred to the Archive from Conservative Campaign Headquarters (previously Conservative Central Office).
For students of the Conservative Party's past, the Conservative Party Archive is an essential source of reference. Its unrivalled accumulation of papers, some published but the vast majority unpublished gives a unique insight into the development of the Party’s policies and organisation. [William Hague, 2001]
The structure of the Conservative Party Archive
Papers held in the Archive reflect the 3 main sections of the Party:
the voluntary (through the papers of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations and its successor, the );
the elected (through the papers of the 1922 Committee);
and the professional (through the papers of Conservative Central Office and its successor, Conservative Campaign Headquarters).
The Archive also includes other categories such as audio-visual material and a large library of material published and printed by the Conservative Party.
The main collections within the Archive are as follows:
National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations, and its Area Offices
Conservative Central Office (since 2004, Conservative Campaign Headquarters), including the Conservative Research Department
Advisory Committee on Policy
Shadow Cabinet (or Leader's Consultative Committee)
Scottish Unionist Members’ Committee
Conservative Whip's Office
Library of Published and Printed Material (printed Party literature, press releases, speeches)
A full catalogue of the archive is available online at: online catalogue
National Union Of Conservative And Unionist Associations, 1867–present
The National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations (now known as the ) was established in 1867. It is a federation of constituency associations, bringing together the rank and file of the Party in a national organisation. Representatives of the constituencies meet at area and national level, and a system of advisory committees is used to convey grass roots opinion to the Party leadership. The Convention exists to express opinion and support and, as such, can exert a degree of influence on the Leader and over Party policy. It does not, however, possess any mandatory powers. The annual Party Conference is a Convention function.
The Conservative Party's provincial organisation is based on 26 "areas", mostly corresponding to two or three counties. This structure has been in place since the 1997 General Election. Prior to this date, the Party’s structure was based on eleven larger Areas, such as North Western or Southern, and it is this structure which is reflected in the files held in the Conservative Party Archive.
The National Union organisation within each area was headed by the Area Council, comprising MPs, candidates, area officials, representatives from each constituency and constituency agents. The Area Council generally met once a year, and most area business was conducted by the Area Advisory Committee which complemented those at national level and co-ordinated similar advisory committees in individual constituencies. In some areas, in addition to the area structure, there also existed a number of County Divisions or Federations, again with their own committees. Papers from individual constituency associations are not held in Conservative Party Archive but have been retained by association offices or transferred to local libraries and record offices.
Conservative Central Office, 1936–present
Conservative Central Office, established in 1870, constitutes the main professional and organisational element of the Party. Initially under overall control of the Chief Whip, by 1911 it had grown sufficiently to warrant the appointment of a Chairman of the Party Organisation. This was, and has almost invariably been, a politician of cabinet or near-cabinet rank, and the deputy and vice-chairmen have generally also been political appointments, though not necessarily MPs.
1922 Committee, 1923–present
The 1922 Committee was formed [in 1923] of Conservative Private Members who where elected for the first time in 1922, for the purpose of mutual co-operation and assistance in dealing political and parliamentary questions and in order to enable new Members to take a more active interest and part in parliamentary life... (CPA, 1922/1) Today every Conservative back-bench MP is a member of the committee. It provides a sounding board of Conservative opinion in the House of Commons, and allows MPs to put forward ideas, views and concerns through a process of dialogue, rather than through confrontation with the leadership. As such, it has been involved in all the major issues of the twentieth century.
Advisory Committee on Policy, 1946–79
The (ACP) lies at the heart of the Conservative Party. From its foundation in 1946 until the 1970s it was the central forum for considering policy, and its deliberations provide an important and revealing insight into the inner workings of Conservative Politics. Its founding father was R.A. Butler, one of the most important figures in the post-war revival and the governments of 1951-64. He remained its chairman until 1965, and under his patronage and influence the ACP became the Party's clearing house for ideas and policies. This series is available on microform up until 1964.
Shadow Cabinet (or Leader's Consultative Committee), 1964–present
The Leader's Consultative Committee is the most central of policy organs and the supreme decision-making body of the Party. Also known as the Shadow Cabinet, its membership is always by invitation from the Leader. Its secretary is usually the Director of the Conservative Research Department when the Party is in opposition. The Conservative Party Archive only holds the files of this committee when the Party is in Opposition; Cabinet records are held at The National Archives at Kew.
Steering Committee, 1963–76
Official Group, 1967–74
The has existed under several names, such as the and the , and was also known as the while headed by Iain Macleod as Party Chairman. It is a gathering of MPs and professionals from the Research Department and Central Office, mainly brought together for the purposes of assembling and drafting a manifesto but advising on other matters too. Its secretary usually comes from the Research Department.
The Conservative Party Archive includes correspondence of MPs, ministers, shadow ministers and leaders engaged in Party activity and three small collections of private papers: papers of R. A. (later Lord) Butler, 1946-1961, Sir Keith (later Lord) Joseph, 1973-1979, and , c.1929-c.1937.
Scottish Unionist Members’ Committee, 1932–64
The [SUMC] came into being in March 1932 and was open to all Scottish MPs. During the 1930s it met between five and twelve times a year with about twenty MPs attending each meeting. The Conservative Party Archive holds only a small quantity of SUMC material. The majority of records of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party are held at National Library of Scotland.
Swinton College, 1948–80
was the third and final Conservative College, its predecessors being the Philip Stott College and the . Its papers deal in the main with the administration of the college and include correspondence between the Principal and the Governors, various committee meetings, course scholarships, and copies of its published journal.
Conservative Whips' Office, 1928–1951
The Conservative Party Archive contains only a limited amount of papers from the Conservative Whips' Office. The subjects covered include:-
(1930s) electoral reform, General Elections, Party political broadcasts, old age pensions;
(1940s) Sir Joseph Ball's proposals for Party re-organisation, food and agriculture, structure of the National Union, trade union vote, Party political broadcasts, National Liberal reflections, civilian clothing, BBC Charter, women and the war effort.
Library of Published and Printed Material, 1868–present
A large number of election posters dating from 1886 and election addresses from 1922 can be found in the Conservative Party Archive. The collection also includes speeches, press releases and transcripts of Party political broadcasts, and many Party publications such as leaflets, pamphlets, campaign guides and journals. Conservative Party political broadcasts and films are available at the National Film and Television Archive.
- Conservative Party Archive
- Conservative Party Archive online catalogue
- Conservative Party Archive blog: Gleanings & Memoranda
- Guide to the Conservative Party Archive (2009)
- Conservative Party Archive poster collection
- Conservative Party
- Conservative History Group
- Conservative History Blog
- Political Parties and Parliamentary Archives Group
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