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On-line Catalogue of the Conservative Party Archive

Conservative Overseas Bureau and the Conservative Party International Office

Organisational History

The Conservative Overseas Bureau was set up by the Conservative Political Centre to provide hospitality for, and improve links with overseas visitors. On 14th December 1948 the CPC Overseas Bureau Committee held its inaugural meeting, as a sub-committee of the Advisory Committee on Policy and Political Education (later, the CPC Advisory Committee), and the Conservative Overseas Bureau was officially opened on 1st January 1949.

These organisational developments were intended to ensure that the maximum benefit was obtained from the numerous Dominion, Colonial and foreign contacts available to the Party, both centrally and locally. Particular emphasis was placed on improving the rather weak links with the USA. From 1953 the Bureau also provided a secretariat for the Conservative Commonwealth Council, and its successors.

The Conservative Party International Office was set up within Conservative Central Office in 1973, and absorbed the work of the Conservative Overseas Bureau. The Conservative Commonwealth Overseas Bureau Committee correspondingly held its last meeting on 28th November 1972, at which point it was reconstituted as the International Office Overseas Committee (otherwise known as the Conservative Overseas Committee). In 1984 it merged with the Conservative Commonwealth & Overseas Council (until 1966, the Conservative Commonwealth Council) and was reconstituted to form the Conservative Foreign & Commonwealth Council, which still exists today [2013].

After 1973 the International Office continued to act as a point of contact between the Conservative Party and foreign visitors and parties. It also serviced committees dealing with overseas affairs, including EC matters, particularly the Conservative Commonwealth and Overseas Council, the Foreign Affairs Forum, and the Conservative Parliamentary Commonwealth Affairs Committee (until 1952, the Imperial Affairs Committee), providing briefing on aspects of foreign policy for Ministers, Conservative Parliamentarians and members of the Party, undertaking research into international affairs, assisting with liaison between the European Parliament and Westminster, and acting as the point of first contact with the Party for organisations and individuals from other countries, foreign journalists and diplomatic missions. It also promoted relations with like-minded parties elsewhere, and organised conferences and visits.

The international work of the Party continued to grow through the activities of the European Democrat Union (EDU), created in 1978 to bring together the centre-right parties of Europe in a working alliance. The EDU evolved into the International Democrat Union. Initially its secretariat was based in London, within the International Office.

The International Office merged with the foreign affairs section of the Research Department at the beginning of 1980. Further proposals for restructuring made in 1987 recommended that Conservatives Abroad, the European Union of Women, and the Conservative Group for Europe (the latter two independent of the Party but desirous of being brought within the Party organisation) be brought under the control of the International Office, whose Director would no longer share the post as Secretary General of the IDU [Source: ‘The Reorganisation of Conservative Central Office, September 1987’ Shelfmark: CCO 20/3/19]. Following the major restructuring the Party organisation in 1993, the International Office came within the remit of the Campaigning Department.

Since 1994, the International Office has been funded by the Westminster Foundation of Democracy, which channels funds to all three main political parties to enable them to promote emerging democracies throughout the world.

Cataloguing of the papers of the Conservative Overseas Bureau and International Office, c1948-2000 is in progress and links to available material will appear below in due course. They have been arranged as follows:

COB 1: Administrative Papers

COB 2: Secretariat for Conservative Party foreign affairs groups
                Conservative Overseas Bureau Committee (1948-1984)
                Conservative Parliamentary Imperial Affairs (subsequently Commonwealth Affairs) Committee (1945-1962)
                Conservative Commonwealth Council (1953-1966)
                Conservative Commonwealth & Overseas Council (1966-1984)
               Conservative Foreign & Commonwealth Council (1984-)
               Foreign Affairs Forum (c1966-1985)

COB 3: Liaison with the Conservative Party's European Parliamentary groups
                European Conservative Group (1973-1979)
               European Democratic Group (1979-1992)
               European People's Party (c1992-2000)
               Conservative Group for Europe

COB 4: Liason with international groups and organisations
               Nouvelles Équipes Internationales - Union Internationale des Democrates Chretiens (NEI) (1948-1967)
               European Union of Women (1951-1994)
               International Democrat Union (IDU) (1983-c2000)
               European Democrat Union (EDU) (1978-c2000)

COB 5: Overseas visitors and groups

COB 6: Research and briefing

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Last updated: 07 January 2014
Jeremy McIlwaine