After studying at the University of St. Andrews, I was appointed to a lectureship in History at the University of Leicester in 1979, where I am currently Professor of Modern British History. I have been a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society since 1990, and am a member of the editorial committee and a Trustee of the academic journal 'Parliamentary History'.
I have always been interested in modern British political history, and within that I have concentrated on the Conservative Party during the twentieth century. Despite its long record of electoral success and dominance in government since 1918, when I began research in the late 1970s this was a very neglected area. My doctoral thesis examined the internal party crisis of 1929-31, when rebellion within the party and attacks from the 'Press Lords' nearly forced Stanley Baldwin out of the leadership, and this resulted in my first book: 'Baldwin and the Conservative Party: The Crisis of 1929-1931' (Yale University Press, 1988).
In the course of this research, I became particularly interested in the records of the local constituency Conservative Associations, which shed significant new light on the internal politics of the party. My interest in the organisation and ethos of the Conservative Party led to further projects which dealt also with the period after 1945, particularly in the first of the three books which I have co-edited with Anthony Seldon: 'Conservative Century: The Conservative Party since 1900' (Oxford University Press, 1994). We subsequently co-edited a book on 'The Heath Government 1970-1974' (Longman, 1996), and more recently a volume of essays by leading historians which examined each of the periods in which the Conservative Party has been in opposition since the days of Disraeli: 'Recovering Power: The Conservatives in Opposition since 1867' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
My main area of interest remains the inter-war period, and this has culminated in my most recent book: 'Portrait of a Party: The Conservative Party in Britain 1918-1945'. This examines the nature and working of every level of the Party from the leader to the grass-roots, and integrates this with Conservative ideas, attitudes and electoral support. The aim is to examine the party as a organism, uncovering the roles and relationships of the various elements, and the attitudes and assumptions which shaped them. A particular interest is the relationship between leaders and followers, at all levels: between frontbench leadership and backbench MPs; between both of these elements and the party grass-roots, and the network of relationships at local constituency level.
My other books include a short illustrated biography of Winston Churchill (British Library, 2003), and a book which contains full colour reproductions of nearly 200 Conservative posters from the Edwardian era to the 2010 general election: 'Dole Queues and Demons: British Election Posters from the Conservative Party Archive' (Bodleian Library, 2011). I have also written a number of articles for academic journals, and contributed the essay on Stanley Baldwin to the 'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography'.
In the early 1980s, I first encountered the private diary of Sir Cuthbert Headlam, who was a Conservative MP for most of the period from 1924 to 1951 (and a junior minister in the late 1920s and early 1930s), and a leading figure in the north-east of England - a region where the Conservatives were often struggling, despite their national success. Headlam's extensive and detailed diary is a fascinating source for British political history, and I have published this in a two-volume edition: 'Parliament and Politics in the Age of Baldwin and MacDonald: The Headlam Diaries 1923-1935' (The Historians' Press, 1992), and 'Parliament and Politics in the Age of Churchill and Attlee: the Headlam Diaries 1935-1951' (Cambridge University Press, 1999.