Parliament Week 2011: Jeremy McIlwaine on the Conservative Party Archive

Jeremy McIlwaine interviewed by Ben Miller | 04 November 2011
A photo of a man in a shirt and tie sitting at a desk looking at an old book in a library
Parliament Week 2011: In his own Words: Jeremy McIlwaine is responsible for the Conservative Party Archive in Oxford…

"We have the papers of Conservative central office going back to about the 1930s, as well as the records of the voluntary wing of the party, the National Union of Conservatives associations, which goes back to 1867.

It's probably one of the largest political party archives in Europe, I think. It's all in one room, boxed away in the Bodleian Library in mobile racking about 30 feet high.

We have gramophone records going back to the 1920s, and a lot of photographs and videos of party political broadcasts going back to the 1970s.

The way the broadcasts have changed is quite fascinating. The big difference, I’d say, is that the presentation these days is much more slick, much more clear.

The style from the mid to late-70s is naïve in a way, but that's obviously not how it came across then. You see a broadcast by Margaret Thatcher and the way she came across is probably not how politicians would like to come across these days.

It's almost a school ma'am-ish approach, sitting behind a desk talking at you, whereas these days it’s much more about trying to be part of the people.

The first annual party conference took place on the 12th of November 1867, and we've got an unbroken record of all the party conferences going back to that date.

You get 13,000-14,000 people attending these days, but the first one was held in a pub in London. The second conference, in 1868, only had an attendance of six. The meetings back then tended to be one-room assemblies in a pub or hotel.

The earliest photo we have is from 1903 – it's a group of Conservative members of the National Union, the voluntary wing of the party. They're pictured outside the House of Commons.

There are plenty of Winston Churchill at party conferences, and lots of his successors – Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home and Edward Heath.

The pictures show the difference between then and today – they're very hazy, because everybody's smoking. It's completely different from the very slick operation today.

Most of our new materials, being 'born digital' are transferred electronically, but sometimes we get them through the post, publications or contacts made at the party conference.

We attend the party conference to raise awareness of the existence and purpose of the Archive, and often receive papers from contacts made with Conservative-affiliated groups there.

We're not funded by the party or the Library – we're backed by the Conservative Party Archive Trust, and to help raise funds we create merchandise.

We've got posters going back to 1910 onwards. The ones from the 1929 election are really fantastic posters.

They're pushing the message of 'vote Conservative and you'll have a happy life.'"

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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