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Oral history: politics and government

A number of collections document British politics and government. They include interviews with those involved in government administration, political parties and the civil service. These interviews chart the changing face of British politics and their impact on British society, and give insights into different political figure, movements and events of 20th- 21st-century Britain. 

Government

  • The House of Commons staff oral history collection (catalogue no: C1135) comprises 18 interviews with past and present members of the staff of the House of Commons.
  • Whitehall Decision-makers (catalogue no: C478) comprises four interviews with senior civil servants (Lord Bancroft, Sir Frank Cooper, Sir Frank Roberts and Sir Harold Beeley) made by Anthony Barker and Anthony Seldon.
  • The Harman-Shepherd collection of interviews with women Members of Parliament (catalogue no: C1182) comprises interviews with 83 female and 3 male Members of Parliament, most of whom entered the House of Commons at the 1997 general election.
  • An interview with Betty Boothroyd (the first female speaker of the House of Commons) and with Edwina Coven, first woman Chief Commoner of City of London are included in the Leaders of National Life (C408) collection
  • George Jones Political Recordings (catalogue no: C1107) comprise eleven recordings of broadcasts by Professor George Jones discussing current political topics, including recordings broadcast by the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s. The material reflects perceptions and discussions of the powers of Parliament and the Prime Minister and of the relations with them, the crown and the civil service in the 1970s.
  • The History of Parliament Oral History Project (catalogue no: C1503) is a collection of interviews from a project run by The History of Parliament Trust which aims to create an archive of people involved in politics at national and constituency level.

Political parties

  • Labour Party: recordings made by the Labour Party include conference recordings and party political broadcasts (catalogue no: C529) as well as recordings discussing current policy questions distributed by the Labour Party to branches (catalogue no: C20). The Hilary Wainwright Labour Party Tapes (catalogue no: C818) include interviews with Labour Party activists and focus on the political scene in the 1980s, in particular, Trade Unions, Party democracy, women's and black sections, factionalism and the politics of opposition. The Labour Oral History Project (catalogue no: C609) includes interviews with activists in the Labour movement conducted by project volunteers from all over Britain. Interviewees are past or present members of the Labour Party or the Communist Party of Great Britain. The National Co-operative Society Oral History Project (C739) is a series of life story interviews with active members of the Co-operative movement from all over Britain, administered by the Co-operative College, Stanford Hall, Loughborough.
  • Conservative Party: eight interviews with activists at various levels of the British Conservative Party were carried out in conjunction with Ian Holliday, Department of Government at the University of Manchester, and the National Museum of Labour History where they were included in an exhibition entitled The Tories and the People: Mass Conservatism 1867-1997 (September 1998-January 1999) (catalogue no: C895).
  • Communist Party: The British Library Sound Archive holds recordings from the library and archive of the Communist Party of Great Britain covering meetings of party groups, party educational talks and discussions, and broadcasts concerning the party and individual members (catalogue no: C613). A biographical project, part-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, covers the full period of the Party's existence between 1920 and 1991 and features more than 150 interviews (catalogue no: C1049). Other collections include the Communist Party Oral History Project (catalogue no: C703): eight interviews with activists at various levels of the Communist Party of Great Britain conducted in 1994. The Lifetimes of Commitment: interviews with British Socialists (catalogue no: C820) collection includes sixteen interviews with British socialist activists, including sometime members of the Communist Part of Great Britain, carried out between 1986 and 1988.
  • The Socialist Workers' Party Collection (catalogue no: C797) includes recordings made between 1992 and 2000 at the annual 'Marxism' event held in July each year. Speakers include Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn, Terry Eagleton, Tony Cliff, Chris Mullin, John Pilger, Patricia Hewitt, Michael Bogdanov, Christopher Hill, and George Galloway.

Political movements and ideologies

  • The Stoneman Fascist Recordings (catalogue no: C377) include speeches of Oswald Mosley between 1934 and 1979. The collection also includes recordings of meetings of the (British) Union Movement: 1950-81; League of St George: 1967; Action Society/Party: 1974-87; National Front: 1976-1981 (John Tyndall); British National Party: 1993 (annual conference); British National Socialist Party: 1971; Friends of Oswald Mosley: 1990-6 (Michael Quill, Ronald Creasey).
  • The Donald Soper cassettes (catalogue no: C988) are 44 cassettes from a collection amassed during Lord Soper's career covering many moral, theological and political issues, including Northern Ireland; the Falklands War; the 1984-1985 Miners' Strike; Death of the Shah of Iran; euthanasia and science versus religion. Other individuals recorded with Lord Soper include: Illtyd Harrington, Rev Kenneth R. Brown, David Lange and The Rt. Hon George Thomas MP.
  • The Bow Dialogues (catalogue no: C812) were Tuesday lunchtime debates held at the church between 1964 and 1979, in which the speakers were well-known public figures invited by Rev. Joseph McCulloch, Rector of St Mary-le-Bow, to discuss topics of current importance. The Bow Dialogues are available for higher education users on the Sounds  website project.

Trade Union and Labour movements

  • The Fire Brigades Union (catalogue no: C518) project consists of 28 interviews and was conducted as part of an Essex University PhD on Fire Brigade Unions.
  • An interview with trade union leader Jack Jones is also included in the National Life Stories project Leaders of National Life (catalogue no: C408).
  • The Ronald Fraser Interviews: 1968 – A Student Generation in Revolt (catalogue no: C896) collection includes interviews with student activists about the events of 1968 in Britain and the United States, carried out for Fraser's book entitled 1968: A Student Generation in Revolt' (London: Chatto & Windus, 1988). The collection includes interviews with lecturers and students, including: Sally Alexander, Tariq Ali, Anna Davin, Jeffrey Dudgeon, David Fernbach, Paul Ginsborg, Fred Halliday, Geoffrey Hawthorn, Paul Hirst, Kim Howells, Martin Jacques, Bernadette McAliskey (Devlin), Sheila Rowbotham, David Triesman and Hilary Wainwright.

Related recordings

Accessing the collections

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)
E oralhistory@bl.uk