The Conservatives have been Wales’ second largest party for most of the last century, whether measured by share of the vote, the number of MPs elected and latterly the number of Assembly Members or Members of the Senedd. While exact figures are not easy to come by, it’s also likely that they would have been the second largest party in terms of grassroots members.
The Conservative Party in Wales has however, arguably been the subject of less study than Labour, the Liberals and Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, especially in the case of the members and grassroots activists who pounded the pavements, stuffed envelopes and raised funds to fight elections. This group was the subject of a fascinating online session given by Dr Sam Blaxland, lecturer, historian and member of the Welsh Political Archive’s advisory committee.
Sam has spent many hours researching the records of local Conservative associations in Wales to understand the foot soldiers of the Conservative Party in Wales at the National Library of Wales and gave a fascinating insight into the sometimes stereotypical and sometimes surprising attitudes of the party members. These ranged from mixed views on race, traditional attitudes on law and order to quite surprising views on Sunday trading.
While association records contained details for discussions on policy, there was also a surprising amount relating to fund raising and social activities. As well as organising fetes, carnivals and balls, local associations such as the Monmouth Unionist Association arranged trips to places as far afield as London, Spain and the Netherlands. It was also interesting to see the prominent role played by women in at grassroots level.
We had an interesting discussion with questions and comments by members of the audience and touched on a number of issues around the changing way people have engaged with politics, the demographics of Conservative support and the role that oral history projects can play in filling in the gaps in official records.
If you missed the event, you can watch the video on the Library’s Facebook page.
The Welsh Political Archive