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'High-level' Committees of the Party

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):
               Cabinet Conservative Committee (1934-1935)
               Post-War Problems Central Committee (1941-1946)
               Advisory Committee on Policy (1946-1981)
               Tactical Committee (1947-1951)
               Liaison Committee (1951-1964; 1970-1973)
               Steering Committee (1957-1979)
               Policy Initiatives & Methods Committee (1966-1974)
               Party Strategy Group (1974)
               Strategy & Tactics Committee (1978-1979)
               Strategy Meeting (1979-1980)
               Chairman's Committee (1966-1979)
               Keith Joseph's Committee (1975-1979)
               Directors' Committee (1976-1981)
               Policy Studies Group (1953-1955; 1957-1959; 1961-1963; 1967-1974)

The Cabinet Conservative Committee was set up by Neville Chamberlain as Chancellor of the Exchequer in February 1934, and chaired by Stanley Baldwin. The purpose of the Committee was to provide and re-invigorate the National Government, then still led by Ramsay MacDonald, with policy ideas to take forward as Government policy for the 1935 General Election. It met in the offices of the Conservative Research Department rather than at the House of Commons so as to avoid arousing suspicion amongst the partner parties to the coalition.
Joseph Ball, Director of the Conservative Research Department, also attended meetings of the CCC and was closely involved with Chamberlain in developing the policy research undertaken by the CRD on its behalf.

There is an element of doubt as to the name of this committee as all references to it refer to it simply as the ‘C.C.C’ – nowhere is it described as the ‘Cabinet Conservative Committee’, although its membership consisted of all of the Conservative members of the Cabinet, along with 3 who subsequently joined it. A later [c.1960s?] summary of the work of this Committee describes it as the ‘Conservative Consultative Committee’, but it is not possible to tell whether this is correct. It has been widely referenced as the Cabinet Conservative Committee in academic works on Chamberlain’s policy-making, but this appears to be based on what is probably a duplicate set of CCC papers held with the Chamberlain Papers at Birmingham University Library. The committee is not even described as the CCC until its sixth meeting, up to which point it is described as a ‘Conference’. ‘Leader’s Conference’ is the name which Baldwin used to describe his Shadow Cabinet in 1924, which also came to be known as the Conservative Consultative Committee. The resemblance of the CCC to a Shadow Cabinet is striking and this may have been what Chamberlain was striving to create in the peculiar circumstances of the National Government, albeit that the Conservatives were in Government but not leading it, and Chamberlain was not Leader of the Party but was effectively in control of Party policy-making.

Records held: Minutes, papers and correspondence, 1934-1935 [See series CRD 1/64]

The Post-War Problems Central Committee was the initiative of RA Butler, then Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who proposed the following resolution at the meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Union on 14th May, 1941:
'That with the object of collating and presenting to the Prime Minister the views of the Conservative and Unionist Party on Post-War problems, the Chairman of this Committee should be requested to confer with the Chairman of the Central Council, the Chairman of the Party, the Chief Whip, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee as to the advisability of establishing an ad hoc Committee for that purpose.'

At the next meeting of the Executive Committee, on 9th July, 1941, the resulting report was approved unanimously, and RA Butler was given the responsibility of chairing the new Committee. Initially the following Sub-Committees of the PWPCC were set up, with the subjects to be examined as below:
               Consultative:Developments in public opinion likely to affect the Party; The programmes of other political organisations; subversive movements of a dangerous character.
               Reconstruction: Immediate post-War problems, such as demobilisation and re-settlement, service pensions and employment of the disabled.
               Agricultural: All questions affecting agriculture, forestry, food production, rural housing and the development of the Countryside.
               Industrial and Finance: State control in Industry and Commerce; Location of Industry, Finance and Commerce; Industrial Relations and the restoration of Trade Union Practices.
               Education and Social Services: Education, Urban Housing, Pensions and all other developments of Social Service, including the co-ordination of State assistance schemes.
               Constitutional and Administrative Reform: Redistribution, electoral reform, or other Constitutional changes; Local Government; The position of the Civil Service.
               National Security: International Relations; The maintenance of the Fighting Forces and the well-being of the Mercantile Marine.
               Imperial: All matters concerning the relations of this Country with the Dominions, India, the Colonies, and the development of Imperial Policy.

Appointments were made to the various Sub-Committees and they began their work shortly after. Some Sub-Committees were dissolved comparatively early, such as Social Services (April 1943) and Local Government Reform (February 1944) but others did not produce their final reports until 1945-1946.

Records held: Minutes, papers and correspondence, 1941-1946 [See series CRD 2/28]

The Advisory Committee on Policy (ACP) lay at the heart of the Conservative Party until it was wound up on the instructions of Mrs Thatcher after the 1987 general election. It developed from the work of the Post-War Problems Central Committee (PWPCC), which was set up by the National Union’s Executive Committee on 14th May 1941, under the chairmanship of R A Butler. It was re-named the Advisory Committee on Policy and Political Education by the National Union’s Central Council in November 1945, shortened to Advisory Committee on Policy from 1949. From the end of the War until the mid-1970s it was the central forum for considering policy, and its deliberations provided an important and revealing insight into the inner workings of Conservative Politics.

Butler was one of the most important figures in the post-war revival and the governments of 1951-1964. He remained its chairman until 1965, and under his patronage and influence the ACP became the Party's clearing house for ideas and policies. The Committee comprised representatives from the different sections of the party (backbench MPs, peers, National Union, Party Chairman, Conservative Research Department (CRD) and Conservative Political Centre (CPC) directors and others) and existed to advise the leader on policy matters. It commonly delegated the detailed consideration of particular issues to a number of policy groups which, like the main committee, were serviced by the Research Department.

It proved to be a useful sounding board against which policy ideas could be tested before publication. As John Ramsden put it, 'At the very least, the existence of the ACP in this form ensured that representatives of the National Union, of the Young Conservatives, the Conservative Trades Unionists and Conservative women would all feel that they were involved in the making of policy; and its most negative, this made it unlikely that policies would be disowned by any of these sections of the Party after adoption. The ACP was precisely what its name implied, an advisory committee (and hence not to be compared with its nearest equivalents in the Labour Party, the policy sub-committees of the National Executive); it did not claim to take away from the leadership the right to "make" policy, but it guaranteed that policy would not be made without its broad lines being discussed with the Party in advance' (J. Ramsden, The Making of Conservative Party Policy: The Conservative Research Department since 1929, p. 132).

Records held: Minutes and papers, 1946-1981 [See series ACP]

The Tactical Committee (alternatively known as the Tactical Staff Committee) was a Central Office committee set up in c.1945 composed partly of ministers/shadow ministers and partly of professional party staff, and was responsible for the party's daily tactical response to the political battle.

It was originally formed by and was chaired by, E.D.[Toby] O'Brien, Director of Information Services at Conservative Central Office, in order to ensure that day to day propaganda points arising in the newspapers and elsewhere were not overlooked., and to deal with such matters in a practical or low level rather than on a strategic or high level way. From its inception it included MPs and members of the Conservative Research Department, and was soon expanded to include other members of Central Office staff, the Whip's Office and Peers. O'Brien's office became a 'Tactical HQ' for meetings held daily on Tuesdays-Fridays each week: 'It would be a task of this committee to consider the tactical implications of events that have occurred and plan ahead to make the best propaganda use of those which are to take place. A short note on the proceedings should be sent to the Chairman and to the Leader and once the Chairman has approved the decisions, a confidential note would be sent to each department or individual whom it affected.' [Shelfmark: CCO 600/17/1, 14th March 1947].

The Party publication, 'Weekend Talking Point' emerged from July 1947 as a single propaganda topic with a brief indication of the suggested line of approach to be taken, to be selected each week by the Tactical Committee and forwarded to MPs and Candidates to provide maximum impact throughout the country each weekend.

The Tactical Committee appears to have fallen into abeyance just before the 1951 General Election, as no records of its meetings survive beyond Sep 1951; presumably its functions were taken on by another committee which operated for the duration of the campaign only.

In July 1970, the Policy Initiatives & Methods Committee (for which, see below) changed its name to the Tactical Committee.

Records held: Tactical Staff Committee minutes and papers, 1947-1951 [See series CCO 600/17]

LIAISON COMMITTEE [Dec 1951-1964; June 1970-1973]
Following the 1951 general election, the Party Chairman Lord Woolton established the Liaison Committee, in terms set out in a letter dated 13th December 1951: 'For the last five years I have had at the Central Office what was called the Tactical Committee, which has met about twice a week with representatives of both Houses of Parliament, and has done much to guide the major content of week-end speeches both of Members of Parliament and of candidates. I have revived the Committee, giving them the following terms of reference: To give guidance to Members of Parliament, candidates and others on the interpretation of Government policy and to take such action as, in their opinion, is necessary to sustain public confidence in the Conservative administration.' [Source: shelfmark CCO 20/7/1].

Lord Swinton chaired this new committee, as he had chaired a similar committee during the 1951 election campaign [which committee this was is not clear]. The name 'Liaison Committee' was chosen because it described the linking function of the committee, representing a line of communication between Conservative Central Office, the Conservative Research Department and the Government. It had nothing to do with policy formulation, only the effective interpretation of Conservative policy, and its deliberations were intended to be secret.

Part of its remit was to ensure that 'each separate measure which the Government takes is seen by the country as an integral part of a coherent general plan and not just as one of a series of ad hoc expedients' and one of its main propaganda tools was the existing 'Weekend Talking Points' publication [Source: shelfmark CCO 20/7/1]. Its composition was very similar to that of the Tactical Committee, involving representatives from all areas of the Party organisation and parliamentary party, and in practice it continued to fulfil the same functions as its predecessor, simply adapted to being in Government.

Following Labour's election victory in October 1964, the Liaison Committee met once more then ceased to meet throughout the period of Opposition between 1964 and 1970. However, in July 1966, the Party Chairman instituted a new weekly meeting (the Chairman's Committee, for which, see below) the aim of which was to 'deal with current problems in general and effect liaison between the various elements of the Party’ and it was to be ‘a committee akin to the Liaison Committee which we had during our thirteen years in power'. David Dear of the Research Department, the Liaison Committee's former Secretary, would act as its Secretary. It would consist of the Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Chief Whips of the Commons and Lords, Vice-Chairmen of the Party, Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Chairman of the Party in Scotland, Treasurers, Director of the CPC, Director of the Organisation Department, Director of the Publicity Department and the Director of the Research Department. [Source: shelfmark CCO 20/62/1].

In June 1970, the Liaison Committee was revived by William Whitelaw, then Leader of the House of Commons: 'At the Prime Minister's request, I am setting up a Liaison Committee similar to that which was set up in 1951 and which existed for the whole of our period in Office from 1951-64. The Committee will have the following terms of reference: 'To give guidance to Members of Parliament, candidates and others on the interpretation of Government policy and to take such action as, in their opinion, is necessary to sustain public confidence in the Conservative administration.' This committee was to be chaired by William Whitelaw, with Employment & Productivity Minister, Paul Bryan as deputy. It included Sir Michael Fraser, Deputy Party Chairman and Brendon Sewell, Director of CRD. It met weekly, usually on Tuesday.

Records held:
               Establishment of, 1951-1952, [See series CCO 20/7/1];
               Minutes and papers, 1951-1964, [See series CRD 2/52/1-4];
               Minutes and papers, 1970-1973, [uncatalogued].

'Both before the 1955 and 1959 elections, and indeed in a less orderly way for the 1950 and 1951 elections, we have had the same system of first generating thoughts about future policy, then bringing them together in various drafts for the election manifesto, and finally supervising them by a senior committee under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. This seems a very good recipe and, except in detail, I should like to suggest that we follow it again. It involves the setting up of two committees or groups. 1) The Steering Committee. This on the last two occasions was under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister assisted by four or five senior Ministers with Michael Fraser as Secretary….2) The Policy Study Group. I have always been Chairman of this….I would propose to set up the Policy Study Group almost at once…’
[Source: Letter from Iain Macleod to Harold Macmillan, 26/10/1961, Shelfmark: CCO 20/31/1].

Records held:
               Minutes and papers, 1957-1979, [See series SC];
               Minutes and papers, 1957-1959, [See series CRD 2/53/30-34]

From at least February 1966 a Policy Initiatives and Methods Committee operated under the chairmanship of Sir Michael Fraser, Deputy Party Chairman. In August 1966 the Party Chairman instituted a new series of weekly meetings - the Chairman's Committee (from 1975, the Management Committee) - representing all areas of the Party as the now defunct Liaison Committee had done (for which, see above). The role of the Policy Initiatives & Methods Committee was clarified as being 'to cover preliminary discussion on the Talking Points and the Weekly News' [Source: shelfmark CCO 20/62/1]. Memoranda containing summaries of the meetings of the Policy Initiatives & Methods Committee were often submitted to the Chairman's Committee. From July 1970 it was known as the Tactical Committee, with a revised membership and terms of reference - some of its former functions presumably being taken over by the revived Liaison Committee following the Conservatives' return to power. It usually met weekly, on Tuesdays, except during general election campaigns when it met daily (and was called the Tactical Group).

Its remit went beyond the daily tactical response to the political battle and regular items on its agenda were party conference arrangements and themes, by-elections, party political broadcasts, other publicity such as TV coverage and Weekend Talking Points.

Records held:
               Minutes and papers, Feb 1966-June 1970 [See series CRD 3/24/17a-d];
               Minutes and papers, 1966-1968 [See series CCO 600/17/14]; ;
               Minutes and papers, Nov 1966-Sep 1974 [See series CCO 20/7/2-21].

This first meeting of this Group (soon referred to as the Party Strategy Committee) was held on 20th May, 1974, chaired by Michael Wolff, the newly-created Director General of Conservative Central Office appointed by Heath. It was intended to be the first of a regular series of meetings designed to discuss strategy rather than tactics, and consisted of Sir Michael Fraser, Mrs Charles Morrison, Anthony Grant MP, David Knox MP, Sir Richard Webster, Don Harker, James Douglas, Chris Patten, and William Waldergrave.

Few papers survive of this Group, and as Wolff was dismissed by Thatcher upon assuming the Party leadership in 1975 and the post of Director General abolished, it is assumed that it was short-lived.

Records held: Minutes and papers, May-July 1974 [See series CCO 20/68/2]

This committee was the successor to the Tactical Committee, which had ceased to exist after 1974. It met for the first time on 13th December 1977, and met usually every fortnight, chaired by Margaret Thatcher and with a membership representing all areas of the Party. It was formed initially to prepare for the expected general election and its early minutes reflect this, but it also went on to discuss by-elections, Party conference, referenda, and other topical issues. In 1980, it changed its name to the Strategy Committee, and from 1986 it was known as the Strategy Group. No records survive for the period 1982-1985, if indeed the Committee was still in existence.

Membership of the Committee initially consisted of:-
Mrs Thatcher
William Whitelaw
Lord Thorneycroft
Lord Carrington
Sir Charles Johnston
Sir Keith Joseph
Humphrey Atkins
Edward du Cann
Alistair McAlpine
Angus Maude
Lady Young

Records held:
               Strategy & Tactics Committee, 1977-1980 [See series CCO 20/7/22-25].

Although some work on strategy continued after the 1979 General Election, notably by Party Chairman Lord Thorneycroft, the Strategy and Tactics Committee appears to have fallen into abeyance. But in a memorandum from Thorneycroft to Alan Howarth, Director of the Conservative Research Department dated 26th October, 1979 [Shelfmark: CCO 20/7/26] he states that Mrs Thatcher had instructed him to arrange meetings on a regular basis to coordinate Party strategy with that of the Government's. These meetings were to be attended by the following:-

Membership of the Committee initially consisted of:-
Mrs Thatcher
Leader of the House, Norman St John-Stevas
Chief Whip, Michael Jopling
Paymaster General, Angus Maude
Party Chairman, Lord Thorneycroft
Deputy Party Chairman, Alistair McAlpine
Vice-Chairman (Local Government), Sir Frank Marshall
Director of the Conservative Research Department, Alan Howarth
Head of the Policy Unit at No. 10, John Hoskyns

No record of subsequent meetings survive beyond February 1980, if indeed any were held. From 1986 it was known as the Strategy Group.

Records held:
               Strategy Meeting minutes, 1979-1980 See series CCO 20/7/26].

A letter dated 7th January, 1948 from Harold Macmillan, MP, then a junior minister, to Lord Woolton, Party Chairman, recommended the creation of a Management Committee to take over responsibility for policy making from the Shadow Cabinet, but nothing seems to have been done in response [Source: shelfmark CCO 20/1/3].

The Management Committee as it ultimately existed had its roots in the Liaison Committee which was set up in 1951 to ensure a seamless presentation of Party policy across the whole Party organisation, and which had ceased to exist in October 1964 once the Party went into Opposition (for which, see above).

In July 1966, the Party Chairman Edward du Cann instituted the Chairman's Committee - a large, formal, weekly meeting within Central Office, to be held on Wednesday mornings, with a circulated agenda and minutes. The aim was for it to 'deal with current problems in general and effect liaison between the various elements of the Party' and it was to be 'a committee akin to the Liaison Committee which we had during our thirteen years in power'. David Dear of the Research Department, the Liaison Committee's former Secretary, would act as its Secretary. The Chairman's Committee is not to be confused with the 'Chairman's Committee' set up by Iain Macleod as Party Chairman in November 1961, which was the re-named Policy Study Group, and was set up as previously, for the express purpose of drafting the Party's manifesto for the anticipated election campaign only.

It would consist of the Party Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Chief Whips of the Commons and Lords, Vice-Chairmen of the Party, Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Chairman of the Party in Scotland, Treasurers, Director of the CPC, Director of the Organisation Department, Director of the Publicity Department and the Director of the Research Department [Source: shelfmark CCO 20/62/1]. Under Lord Thorneycroft, Party Chairman from 1975, this committee appears to have been re-constituted as the Management Committee, with a slightly slimmed down composition. Unfortunately, minutes of the first three meetings of the Management Committee do not survive.

Records held:
               Minutes and papers, 1966-1968 [See series CRD 3/4/1].
               Minutes and papers, Sep 1966-Nov 1975 [See series CCO 20/61/1-6].
               Minutes and papers, Jan 1976-Mar 1979 [See series CCO 20/62/4-5].
               Minutes and papers, Jan 1976-Nov 1979 [Uncatalogued]

Keith Joseph oversaw the major policy review initiated by Margaret Thatcher after taking over the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1975, and coordinated the work of the various policy groups through a small committee which generally consisted of himself along with Chris Patten, Director of the Conservative Research Department, and Angus Maude, Deputy Party Chairman, with James Douglas of the Research Department acting as Secretary. Closely connected with this work, was the Shadow Cabinet Policy Sub-Committee, set up by Thatcher at Keith Joseph’s request in July 1975, and also chaired by him.

Records held:
               Minutes and papers, 1975-1979 [See series KJ 18].
               Minutes and papers, 1975-1979 [See series CRD 4/17/35-36].

This was the Party Chairman's weekly meetings of the various department heads within Central Office, which took place in his office. 'The function of the Directors Meetings was to co-ordinate effort, pool information and monitor progress.' [Source: shelfmark CCO 20/62/2].

Records held: Directors' Meeting minutes, Oct. 1976-Dec. 1981 [See series CCO 20/62/2-3].

POLICY STUDY GROUP [1953-1955; 1957-1959; 1961-1963; 1967-1974]
This has existed under several names, but was a gathering of MPs and professionals from the Conservative Research Department and Conservative Central Office, mainly brought together for the purposes of assembling and drafting a manifesto but advising on other matters too. Its secretary usually came from the Research Department.

It was constituted for the first time as the Research Study Group in 1953 to prepare for the 1955 General Election, and again from 1957 as the Policy Study Group in preparation for the 1959 General Election, chaired both times by Iain Macleod. As Party Chairman in November 1961 he revived it again:

'The Policy Study Group which does the work of the preparation of the manifesto and sometimes concerns itself with other policy matters has previously been set up about two years after the beginning of a new Parliament. The timing therefore would seem to be right for it to begin to function once more. On both previous occasions I have been Chairman of the Group, and the Prime Minister wishes me to undertake this task again. I propose this time to rename the Policy Study Group the Chairman's Committee.' [CRD 2/52/7: Letter from Iain Macleod, 02/11/1961]. NB, this should not be confused with the Chairman's Committee referred to above, which was set up in 1966 for a completely unconnected purpose.

On previous occasions the Committee had been composed almost entirely of ministers; in 1961 it was decided to expand the group to include more MPs, and also people outside Parliament, including Conservative Central Office and the Conservative Research Department.

In November 1967 it was re-established as the Official Group, to prepare for the 1970 General Election. This time it remained constituted until August 1974.

Records held:
               Research Study Group: Minutes and papers, 1953-1955 [See series CRD 2/49/28-31].
               Policy Study Group: Minutes and papers, 1957-1959 [See series CRD 2/53/24-29].
               Chairman's Committee: Minutes and papers, 1961-1963 [See series CCO 20/31/1-2] and CRD 2/52/7-9].
               Official Group: Minutes and papers, 1967-1974 [See series OG]

Conservative Party Archive

Last updated: 21 January 2016, Jeremy McIlwaine