The Conservative Research Department (CRD) is the think tank of the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom. It operates alongside other departments of Conservative Campaign Headquarters at 4 Matthew Parker Street, Westminster, London, SW1H 9HQ.
The importance of CRD as a training ground for leading Conservative politicians has been widely acknowledged. Former CRD advisers to have served in the Cabinet include former Prime Minister, David Cameron, former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Oliver Letwin and former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. After 1945, Enoch Powell, Iain Macleod, Reginald Maudling and Chris Patten all passed through it. The Chairman of the Department (currently CRD alumnus) has a seat in the Cabinet.
CRD was established by Neville Chamberlain in 1929 to undertake detailed policy work for the leader of the Party (then Stanley Baldwin) and his principal colleagues. It was the first real think-tank of the right in British politics. For 50 years it occupied its own premises in Old Queen Street overlooking St James's Park, but after the 1979 election, Margaret Thatcher united it physically with the rest of the Party's Central Office.
Until 1940 CRD was in practice virtually the private political property of Neville Chamberlain, furnishing him with policy papers and contributions to his speeches. A tightly knit group of six (who for a time included Frank Pakenham, the future Lord Longford) developed a detailed policy programme for him with a bias toward progressive social measures, including family allowances and better pensions for all.
CRD's work was suspended during the war, but the Department was re-established on a wider basis with a much larger staff by Rab Butler, its chairman for 20 years (1945–65) Its extended post-war role included the provision of extensive briefing material on major legislation before Parliament and all the main issues of political controversy as they arose, as well as working with Butler to create the post-war Conservatism embodied in the famous series of charters of the late-1940s.
CRD was therefore the instrument through which the course of Conservative policy was determined during what is known as the 'post-war consensus' until it broke down in the 1970s. The series of Campaign Guides which CRD began to produce in 1950 recorded in detail the progress of Conservative Governments in this period—and more recent volumes in the series have continued to provide a full, official account of Conservative policy and its implementation.
When Margaret Thatcher became party leader in 1975, CRD organised the full policy review co-ordinated by Sir Keith Joseph which preceded her election as prime minister. In office she valued CRD primarily for the thorough and effective way in which it communicated to the Party at large the reasons why radical political change was needed and explained how Britain was being transformed as a result of them. CRD was a vital link between a reforming administration and the Party on whose support it depended. It was entrusted with the production of her general election manifestos and worked closely with her during election campaigns. The Director appointed in 1979 was Adam Ridley, who since 1974 had been Economic Adviser to the Shadow Cabinet.
The tradition of working closely with the Party leader and other senior figures continued. During the 2005 election campaign, CRD was once again the leader's policy secretariat, assisting Michael Howard's close advisers with the formulation of the Conservative position on all key subjects and the development of the strategy for the campaign. Under the editorship of CRD veteran Alistair B. Cooke, later Lord Lexden, CRD also wrote and published the latest volume of the historic Campaign Guide, providing detailed policy and political attack material.
Under David Cameron CRD was reorganised, and in June 2006 Desk Officers (subject specialists) were retitled as Special Advisers to the Shadow Cabinet and relocated to the House of Commons, whilst the enlarged political section and the policy secretariat remained at Campaign HQ. This experiment was reversed the following year when in September 2007 the possibility of an early General Election prompted the Party leadership to move Special Advisers back in-house to the new Campaign Headquarters at 30 Millbank.