Quiet Revolution at Central Office?

  • David Butler
  • Michael Pinto-Duschinsky


Major Conservative electoral defeats have been followed, with a single exception, by inquests into the state of party organisation. The formation of the Central Office itself was largely a response to the Liberal victory of 1868. In 1880, there was a high-powered committee under W. H. Smith. In 1906 (the exception) divisions between free trade and tariff reform factions were so bitter that it was impossible to maintain, let alone to consider, ways of improving the machine. Major reforms were introduced in 1911 by a committee including Arthur Steel-Maitland. After the 1929 election, Neville Chamberlain established a ‘Committee of Investigation’ and the celebrated Maxwell-Fyfe Committee sat after the Conservative defeat of 1945. In eschewing the idea of a major commission of investigation after 1964, and again after 1966, it would appear that the Conservative leaders were flying in the face of precedent. In fact, they sponsored changes that were potentially as radical as any that had followed previous inquests. The ‘quiet revolution’, a phrase often used after 1966, fairly summed up the intentions of the party managers, though it overstated their success in achieving them.


Central Office Party Leader Local Association Conservative Party Quiet Revolution 
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  1. 1.
    Publication of the accounts had been intermittently discussed since its recommendation by the Maxwell-Fyfe Committee in 1948 which was never implemented, for reasons, some of which were summarised by Sir Stephen Piersséné in Parliamentary Affairs, Autumn 1948. As our interviews revealed no one of consequence who admitted to having been opposed to disclosure, it is difficult to see why the decision was so delayed. It appears likely, however, that an important influence for the change was Lord Chelmer, one of the party treasurers. Mr. Heath also took a close personal interest in the problems of finance and supported publication, feeling it important that a party which proposed to cut public expenditure should be seen to be keeping its own under firm control.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    Gordon Leak, ‘ Tories seek new reality — candidates’ list to be slashed to less than 400’, Yorkshire Post, May 9, 1966.Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    David Howell, ‘The Change at the Grass Roots’, Spectator, January 6, 1967. See also his articles ‘What’s Wrong with Central Office?’ and ‘The Most Urgent Reform of all’, Spectator, January 13 and 20, 1967.Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    The members of the Television Broadcasting Committee, which also handled sound broadcasts, were: Mr. Barber (Chairman), Mr. Whitelaw (Chief Whip and responsible for the political coordination of broadcasting during the campaign), Sir Michael Fraser (Deputy Chairman), Mr. Garrett, Mr. Tucker (Director of Publicity), Mr. Sewill (Director of the Research Department), Mr. Johnson-Smith (Vice-Chairman), Mr. John Lindsey (Head of the Broadcasting Section of the Publicity Department). See H. B. Boyne, ‘How much politics on TV?’, Daily Telegraph, December 5, 1968.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Butler and Michael Pinto-Duschinsky 1971

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Butler
    • 1
  • Michael Pinto-Duschinsky
    • 2
  1. 1.Nuffield CollegeOxfordUK
  2. 2.Pembroke CollegeOxfordUK

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