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The Professional Party

Milestones in the emergence and development of a professional, organised Conservative Party often came about during times of electoral defeat as the Party attempted to restructure itself in order to face new challenges. Following defeat in 1868, Sir John Gorst (who three years earlier had been instrumental in setting up the National Union of Conservative Associations) established Conservative Central Office in 1870 at Disraeli's behest; previously the Carlton Club in London had for a long time acted as the headquarters of the Conservative Party organisation.

The creation of Conservative Central Office marked the emergence of the modern Conservative Party, with a small core staff of professional, full-time employees, initially under the control of the Chief Whip but from 1911 a new Chairman of Party Organisation and Party Treasurer. Conservative Central Office expanded steadily up to the outbreak of the Second World War, with several new departments being formed in the 1920s-1930s, at which point much of its organisation was mothballed for the duration. Some of the key departments formed during this earlier period include the Publicity Department, Organisation Department and, independent of Conservative Central Office until 1979, the Conservative Research Department.

After the War, the Party machinery was overhauled in order to adapt to the changing circumstances of the Labour landslide. New Departments were set up to service the work of the National Union's National Advisory Committees, who's work within the Party took on greater importance following Maxwell-Fyfe's reforms. Amongst these were the Local Government Department, Trade Union Department, Education Department, and Public Opinion Research Department, while the Conservative Political Centre was set up to respond to the gap exposed by the Labour Party in the need for political education after the War.

Further post-War developments saw a greater emphasis on policy-formulation, and particularly under the auspices of RA Butler, the Advisory Committee on Policy emerged as the central forum for policy-making until the mid-1980s, and was one of a number of bodies which brought together professionals from within Conservative Central Office with ministers and shadow ministers.

The following sections of the Party's professional organisation are dealt with in more detail below:

Conservative Central Office [CCO]
Conservative Political Centre [CCO 150]
Conservative Research Department [CRD]
'High-level' policy or tactical committees
Party Leader
Conservative Party Board
Ad hoc committees on Party reorganisation

For further details of any section, click on the relevant link below:

Established in 1870, no records of Conservative Central Office survive prior to 1911, and very little prior to the 1930s. Records of most of the departments within Central Office survive amongst the papers of the Central Administration Department filing registry, 1921-1978 [CCO4]. Departmental filing systems also emerged in the immediate post-War years, so often there will be complementary material amongst the relevant departmental files, where these have survived.
Up to the 1990s the activities of Conservative Central Office were broadly grouped under two main departments: the Organisation Department [CCO 500], dealing with Party organisation, agents, speakers, candidates, constituency finance, women and trade unionists; and Press and Communications (incorporating the older Publicity Department [CCO 600], responsible for the production of literature, publications, and propaganda. By 1992, this had evolved into Campaigning (formerly Organisation), and Communications (formerly public relations, the media and propaganda). In 2004, Conservative Central Office was re-named Conservative Campaign Headquarters.
Records held: minutes and papers, 1911-present

The Conservative Political Centre at Conservative Central Office (since 1999, the Conservative Policy Forum) serviced the CPC National Advisory Committee, when one existed, and the CPC groups in the constituencies.
The CPC/CPF is the Party's political education body, and was set up in 1945. It published pamphlets on aspects of policy, and organised conferences and courses at every level of the Party. Today its work is confined to the organisation of a regular programme for discussion groups throughout the country, the many groups all discussing the same subject on the basis of a brief issued by the CPF, with questions to guide the discussion and summaries of the reports of discussion groups going to the Ministers and Shadow Ministers.
The CPC was also involved in developing contacts with overseas groups and making arrangements for group visits to Central Office, until the creation of the International Office specifically for this purpose. 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). The Bureau was officially opened on 1st January 1949. These arrangements 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. The Committee held its last meeting on 28th November 1972, at which point it was reconstituted as the International Office Overseas Committee.
Records held: minutes and papers, 1946-1999

Established in November 1929 the CRD rapidly assumed a central position in the Party's policy-making process, researching a wide range of issues, servicing committees of the parliamentary party and the Shadow Cabinet, providing authoritative briefs to MPs in preparation for Parliamentary debates, and playing a major role in the writing of Party publications and the vetting of Party publicity. It played a crucial role in the renewal of Party policy during periods of opposition after 1945, 1964, and although overshadowed somewhat by the Centre for Policy Studies in period 1975-1979, again led the policy review of 2005-2007.
Records held: 1929-present

'HIGH-LEVEL' POLICY OR TACTICAL COMMITTEES [Click here for more details]
This artificial and all-encompassing section covers the various post-War attempts to bring all areas of the Party organisation together into one forum for the purpose of policy-making, tactical and/or strategic matters, or simply to ensure that Party policy was presented consistently across all fronts.

Because the composition of these committees extended across the whole spectrum of Party activity, records of their deliberations have survived amongst the records of different sections of the Party, and have correspondingly been catalogued with the other records of those sections. To add to the confusion, these committees were often re-named several times during the course of their existence. This page is intended to guide readers as to what has survived by bringing it together in one place, and linking to the relevant catalogue, where appropriate.

The following committees are dealt with below (NB, covering dates given relate to the span of records held, rather than dates of existence):

               Advisory Committee on Policy (1946-1981)
               Tactical Committee (1947-1951)
               Liaison Committee (1951-1964; 1970-1973)
               Policy Initiatives & Methods Committee (1966-1974)
               Party Strategy Group (1974)
               Strategy & Tactics Committee (1978-1987)
               Chairman's Committee (1966-1979)
               Directors' Committee (1976-1981)
               Policy Studies Group (1953-1955; 1957-1959; 1961-1963; 1967-1974)

PARTY LEADER: [Uncatalogued]
The Party Leader's Office within Central Office is the main Party's main power base when the Party is in Opposition. Although formally a part of Conservative Central Office, the Leader's Office papers have tended to be treated as the private papers of the Party leader, and are not usually transferred to the Conservative Party Archive. However, the Party Chairman's paper's [CCO 20] includes a series of Correspondence between the Party Leader and Chairman, 1955-1995 [Series shelfmark: CCO 20/8] and records of the Party Leader's meetings with the Chairman, 1963-1995 [Series shelfmark: CCO 20/38].
Records held: Papers of William Hague, 1997-2001

The Board of the Conservative Party was first established as part of the 1998 reorganisation of the Party and is the supreme decision-making body in matters of Party organisation and management.

Since 1911, a number of ad hoc committees have considered the state of party organisation. They provide a useful record of the development of the party organisation and the state of the party generally throughout the twentieth century:
                Unionist Organisation Committee
                Records held: Reports, 1911 [CCO 500/1]

                Reorganisation (Stanley) Committee
                Records held: Report, 1927 [CCO 500/1/4]

                Reorganisation (Chamberlain) Committee
                Records held: Papers, report and correspondence, 1931 [CCO 500/1/5]

                Monsell Committee on Party Reorganisation
                Records held: Memoranda, evidence and reports, 1937-1938 [CCO 500/1/7-8]

                Maxwell-Fyfe Committee on Party Organisation
                Records held: Minutes, memoranda and reports, 1948-1949 [CCO 500/1/17-18] and [NUA 6/2]

                Committee on Area Office Organisation
                Records held: Interviews, reports & papers, 1950-1952 [CCO 4/5]

                Colyton Committee on Party Organisation
                Records held: Minutes and correspondence, 1957-1958 [CCO 500/1/24-25]

                Selwyn Lloyd Enquiry into Party Organisation
                Records held: Minutes and papers, 1962-1963 [CCO 500/1/31-41] and [CCO 120/4]

Conservative Party Archive

Last updated: 07 March 2012, Jeremy McIlwaine