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The Voluntary Party

The mass membership of the Conservative Party belongs first to a local Conservative Association, representing the lowest tier of Party organisation in each parliamentary constituency. Each local association was affiliated to the National Union of Conservative & Unionist Associations, an umbrella organisation set up to represent the voluntary wing of the Party in 1867 and which existed until major organisational reforms within the Party replaced it with the National Conservative Convention in 1998. From 1886, this voluntary wing of the Party was also organised at a regional level. In the 20th century, and particularly after the Second World War, the National Union's Advisory Committees assumed a more important role, while the National Union was also responsible for organising the annual Party conference, and had an important part to play in the selection and approval of Parliamentary candidates.

The National Union represented the voluntary wing of the Conservative Party, and was the umbrella body to which all local Conservative associations in the constituencies affiliated until it was dissolved in 1998. The records of the National Union date back to its creation in 1867 and are by far the oldest series in the Archive.
Records held: Minutes and papers, 1867-1998; also, records of the annual Conservative Party Conference, 1867-2010

In 1886, the National Union reorganised itself in England and Wales creating 10 regional 'Provinces'. This provincial structure virtually disintegrated after 1906, but was renewed as 12 Provincial Areas in 1930, each with an Area Council and an Executive Committee.

                London/Metropolitan Area: Papers, 1921-1927 [ARE 1/29]
                Greater London Area: Minutes, 1964-1986 [ARE 1]
                Northern Area: [Records held at Northumberland Record Office]
                North Western Area: Minutes, 1907-1967 [ARE 3]
                Yorkshire Area: [Records held by West Yorkshire Archives Service, Leeds]
                Midland Area: Minutes, 1886-1959 [ARE MU]
                East Midlands Area: Minutes, 1931-1974 [ARE 5]
                West Midlands Area: Minutes, 1935-1980 [ARE 6]
                Home Counties North Area: Minutes, 1932-1964 [ARE 8/1]
                Home Counties South East Area: Minutes, 1936-1977 [ARE 9/1]
                Eastern Area: Minutes, 1898-1953 [ARE 7/1]
                Wessex Area: Minutes, 1926-1975 [ARE 10/1]
                Western Area: Minutes, 1937-1982 [ARE 11/1]
                Wales and Monmouthshire Area: [No records known to survive]
Records held: minutes, reports, accounts & correspondence, 1886-1986.

In practice, most work at Area level was carried out within the Area Advisory Committees, which complemented those at national level and co-ordinated similar advisory committees in individual constituencies. The most important of the Advisory Committees were formed after the extension of the franchise in 1918, while others were created before 1945. The records of the National Advisory Committees are dispersed, mainly surviving amongst the records of the Area Offices or the Departments of Conservative Central Office set up to service them.                 Women's National Advisory Committee
                Trade Union National Advisory Committee
                Conservative Political Centre Advisory Committee
                National Advisory Committee on Local Government
                Young Conservatives' National Advisory Committee
                Federation of Conservative Students
                Federation of Conservative Graduates
                National Advisory Committee on Education
                National Advisory Committee on Publicity and Speakers
                Conservative Commonwealth & Overseas Council
The Area level records of each National Advisory Committee are mostly to be found catalogued with the records of the respective Provincial Areas of the National Union (ARE), while national records are usually found with the records of the department of Conservative Central Office which was set up to service it. However, some additional records await cataloguing. Records held: Minutes and papers, 1918-1986

Each of the three discussion forums set up by the National Union operated in the same way as the National Advisory Committees, with branches at Area level, and reporting to the Executive Committee of the National Union. They provided an opportunity for frank discussion between Ministers and members of the Forum, and also allowed contact with experts who often had no regular connection with the Conservative Party.

               National Agricultural & Countryside Forum [CRD 4/2]
               Formed in 1979, its aims were to ensure the election of Conservative MPs, MEPs and councillors in rural areas of the UK; to communicate with the electorate to explain policy on                food, agriculture, the countryside, environmental issues; and to advise ministers, MPs and MEPs on matters affecting the countryside, particularly where policy could have a                material effect on the Conservative vote.

               Records held: Minutes & papers, 1979-1989

               Trade & Industry Forum [CRD 4/4]
               Formed in c1981, although no record of its work survives prior to 1984
               Records held: Minutes & papers, 1985-1987

               Social Affairs Forum [Uncatalogued]
               Formed in 1985; its purpose was 'to encourage dialogue within the Party and with Ministers on all social issues, and to further discussion within the Party by holding meetings to
               which recognised experts are invited to participate.'
               Records held: Papers, 1985-1986

The National Conservative Convention was established as part of the major reorganisation of the Party in 1998. Its composition is similar to that of the National Union which it superseded and its chairman is an ex-officio member of the Conservative Party Board. 26 new areas replaced the 11 then in existence, mostly corresponding to two or three counties. The purpose of the Convention is to support the Party, receive reports from each of the Area Management Executives of the reorganised Provincial Areas, and communicate the views of the Party members to the Party leader. The purpose of the Area Management Executive is to act as a co-ordinating body between the Party Board and Constituency Associations.

Papers from individual constituency associations are generally not held in the Conservative Party Archive but have been retained by association offices or transferred to local libraries and record offices, or in some cases, destroyed. However, the records of the three associations listed below have been deposited. However, amongst the papers of Conservative Central Office are files of correspondence with constituency associations, including Scotland and Northern Ireland:

               North Hants. Conservative Association [NHCA]
               Records held: Minutes and papers, 1885-1980

               North West Hants. Conservative Association [NWHCA]
               Records held: Minutes and papers, 1955-1967

               West Hants. Conservative Association (Andover Division) [WHCA]
               Records held: Minutes and papers, 1885-1901

               Conservative Central Office correspondence with constituency associations [CCO 1]
               Records held: 1936-1983

Conservative Party Archive

Last updated: 07 March 2012, Jeremy McIlwaine