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On-line Catalogue of the Conservative Party Archive

Conservative Central Office

Organisational History

Conservative Central Office, established in 1870, constitutes the main professional, orgainisational element of the Party. Initially under the 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. The permanent head of Central Office for most of its existence was the Principal Agent, known from 1931 as the General Director. In the late 1920s the posts of Director of Publicity and Office Controller were temporarily raised to the same stature as Principal Agent, all three being directly responsible to the Chairman. In 1966 the office of General Director was abolished, and the various departmental directors again became personally answerable to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman.

It is the function of Conservative Central Office 'to guide, inspire and co-ordinate the work of the party throughout the country, to advise and assist Consituency Associations and Area Councils and to provide such services as can best be organised centrally' (Maxwell Fyfe Report on Party Organisation, 1948). To that end it contains a large number of departments and sub-departments, each responsible for one or more aspects of party organisation. At the top are the Leader's Private Office, housed in No. 10, Downing Street when the party is in power, and the Chairman's Office. Beneath these come the offices of the Deputy Chairman or Chairmen and the Vice-Chairmen. The number of vice-chairmen varies, but there are commonly at least three, responsible for the women's organisation, the candidates' list and local government. Other vice-chairmen have had responsibility for party organisation generally, for the International Office and for the Young Conservatives. The party Treasurer is sometimes also the Deputy Chairman, and the Treasurer's Office is of the same standing as those of the Deputy and Vice Chairmen. Closely connected with the Treasurer's Office is the Conservative Board of Finance, which assists particularly in raising money from areas and through the constituency quota scheme. The Treasurer and Board of Finance are technically independent of Central Office but are housed in the same building. In party literature they are described as the 'Party Treasurer's at Central Office', and their papers have, for the purposes of this archive, been included within the Central Office collection.

The organisation within Central Office has seen many alterations, and departments and sections have appeared and disappeared in response to changing organisational emphases. Similarly the administrative system of records keeping has undergone a gradual change, as the central filing registry of the inter- and post-war years gave way to a departmentally orientated method of keeping files. Because this development was gradual the two systems overlap, with registry files dating from 1921 to 1978 and departmentally held records stretching back as far as 1911, although with the bulk starting after 1945.

There are five registry series of files. CCO 1 contains correspondence with and about individual constituency associations and dates from May 1936. CCO 2, starting in March 1949, is a similar series of files for the party's area organisations. CCO 3 consists of correspondence files with and about other organisations, ranging from agents' societies and Conservative clubs to Labour, women's, youth and other bodies, both related to the party (eg. the Bow Group, the Conservative Teachers' Association) and wholly unrelated (eg. the BBC and the Labour and Liberal parties). The earliest files in this series date from June 1936. CCO 4 is a series of special subject files on almost any and every issue. Files start in 1921 and range from education and industry to flag days, bazaars and by-elections. Finally CCO 6 relates entirely to the Unionist Agents' Superannuation Fund and the Conservative Agents' Benevolent Association.

Turning to the records of individual departments, the largest unit within Central Office is the Organisation Department. This is something of an umbrella body, with sub-sections which have, at various times, included the Industrial, Local Government, Speakers' and Education Departments, the Overseas Bureau, Young Conservatives, Students, Personnel, the Small Business Bureau and the Organisation and Legal Officer, to name only a few. The various sections of the Organisation Department are numbered between CCO 500 (the Director of Organisation's Office) and CCO 599. Certain departments started as sub-sections of Organisation and graduated to independent status. The Local Government Department is one such. An Organisation Department reference (CCO 508) indicates this fact, although its files will now be found under an independent number (CCO 130).

Other primary departments, some of which have their own sub-departments, include the General Director's Office, the Publicity Department, Community Affairs, the International Office/Overseas Bureau, the Conservative Political Centre, the Women's Organisation Office, Finance and Resources and the Public Opinion Research Department.

The papers of Conservative Central Office are arranged as follows:

CCO 1: Constituency Correspondence, 1936-1982

CCO 2: Area Files, 1949-1969

CCO 3: Outside Organisations, 1936-1978

CCO 4: Subject Files, 1921-1978

CCO 6: Unionist Agents' Superannuation Fund/Conservative Agents' Benevolent Association, 1923-1959

CCO 20: Chairman's Office, 1940-1984

CCO 60: Vice Chairmen's Offices, 1948-1975

CCO 120: General Director's Office, 1951-1963

CCO 130: Local Government Department, 1953-1992

CCO 150: Conservative Political Centre, 1947-1973; 1999

CCO 170: Women's Organisation Department, 1928-1991

CCO 180: Public Opinion Research Department, 1948-1983

CCO 500: Organisation Department, 1911-1977

CCO 503: Labour/Industrial/Trade Unions Department, 1947-1984

CCO 505: Education Department, 1944-1990

CCO 506: Youth Organisations, 1905-1985

CCO 600: Chief Publicity Officer/Director of Publicity, 1945-1977

COB: Conservative Overseas Bureau and Conservative Party International Office, 1948-c2000

FIN: Financial Records, 1912-1975

Conservative Party Archive Online Catalogue

Conservative Party Archive

Last updated: 15 January 2014
Jeremy McIlwaine