The Bodleian Library has obstructed attempts by the Conservative Party to erase years’ worth of speeches from its website, after records were maintained by the Bod’s historical archives.
While redesigning their website, the Conservative Party deleted all of their speeches and press releases from before 2000.
However, in an effort to achieve the political transparency that critics of the move have called for, documentation of the speeches are kept by the Bodleian Library’s Conservative Party Archive.
Opponents of the Conservative’s actions were quick to claim that the party was attempting to cover up promises it had made or records that it did not wish to be publicly accessible. Labour MP Sheila Gilmore told the Guardian: “It will take more than David Cameron pressing delete to make people forget about his broken promises and failure to stand up for anyone beyond a privileged few.”
The speeches are now unavailable not only on the party’s website, but also on the ‘Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine’, a California-based digital library founded to compile records of online resources for posterity.
The online archive was forced to remove 1,158 snapshots of various speeches and news taken from the Conservative website since May 1998 because of a robot blocker that barred access to the pages.
In response to criticism, the Conservatives have reinstated access to the snapshots compiled by the Wayback Machine, a change from the message ‘Page cannot be crawled or displayed due to robots.txt’, which greeted those who tried to look at such online resources through the Internet Archive.
The Conservative Party Archive, established in 1978 and based at the University’s Bodleian Library, is the largest and oldest archive of a political party in the country, dating back to 1867. Funded externally by donations to the Conservative Party Archive Trust, it holds nearly 60,000 speeches from Tory party members.
Many students were directly affected by the censorship, as party websites are commonly used as references for potential source material, and many were not aware of the Bod’s archive.
Jeremy McIlwaine, archivist of the Bodleian’s collection, said of the move that the “timing is questionable”, especially “with an election 18 months away, but much of the furore about it seems to have been politically motivated”.
However, in response to criticism of the Conservatives, he stated: “Taking down 10 years’ worth of speeches from the website, when they are available for research in the Party archive, hardly equates to attempting destroy history.”
When David Cameron addressed Google Zeitgeist Europe in 2006, he talked extensively about the importance of Google’s work in “democratising the world’s information”, claiming that “by making information available to more people, [they are] giving them more power”.
Tom Jackson, a first year PPEist at Magdalen, commented: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
He added: “They’re not the only party to delete stuff from their website, that being said it is for the best interest of open government that we don’t erase the past in order to manipulate the future. An organisation has a right to control what it has on its website, but any rationale behind deleting it all has to be questionable.”