Professor John Ramsden, who died on October 16 aged 61, was a key historian of the Conservative party

Historians in the News

The base for his hugely productive academic career was Queen Mary College at the University of London, where he taught for almost four decades until last year. By the time he left he had established himself as the pre-eminent scholar in his field.

When he joined in 1972, however, academic assessment of recent Conservative party history was in a state of infancy compared with the work done on parties of the Left. Maurice Cowling's 1867: Disraeli, Gladstone and Revolution (1967) had launched a distinctive high-politics school of Conservative authors, and Robert Blake's The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (1970) had provided the essential textbook with a more descriptive approach.

But in 1978 Ramsden began his own substantial and significant contribution to the field, producing the third volume of Longman's six-volume History of the Conservative Party (in all he would write three of the six). The Age of Balfour and Baldwin 1902-1940 was his first, and in many respects his best, book. Like all his writing on Conservatism, it combined close knowledge of the party's archives, especially on organisational and publicity aspects, with an unrivalled knowledge of the personalities involved at every level. He used to speak of Conservatives from the past as though he had known them, and he relished their personal quirks and convoluted relationships.

But as in all his work Ramsden did not confine himself to personalities or formalities, and was always alert to relevant social context: the dining clubs, country-house gatherings, electoral structures and constituency loyalties which enabled the party to thrive in a mass democracy...

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