John Major: Between the Party and the IGC
With the Thatcher government failing to block the convening of the two IGCS, John Major was left to bridge the irreconciliable.1 He was caught between the demands of his party and the constraints of successful EC negotiation. The divisions within the Conservative Party militated against any radical shift of policy on Europe. After the turmoil of Mrs Thatcher's last months as leader, the mood of the party also favoured a less strident stance on Europe. Finding himself suddenly cast as leader, Major gave priority to the unity of his party, accepting the European policy constraints this imposed upon him. To his critics, this unwillingness to break free and set his own course more definitively was evidence of a lack of statesmanship. Yet in the name of 'statesmanship' Major found critics seeking to pull him in different directions on ' Europe'. Faced with the choice of living within the constraints of his party or of displaying flexibility on European matters in order to be a more effective negotiator, Major accepted his party role. He had chosen his course and invited judgement on that basis. A keen party tactician, he focused on creating a more positive style of negotiation at the EC level. The problem was that without a shift of policy, 'style' alone could not turn the EMU negotiations towards the government's agenda. No effective bargaining coalitions could be forged on the basis of style, rather than substance.
Given the divergence between party opinion and the IGC agenda on EMU, Major's government was fighting a rearguard action. Its deepest wish was that the EC would not agree on any binding commitment to a single currency. On that basis, British options for the future would be left open. The Major government, like that of Mrs Thatcher's before it, approached the EMU issue with a distinctive philosophy. Its approach was voluntarist and market-oriented. The philosophy defended national sovereignty, whilst having the perceived virtues of pragmatism and liberalism. As noted in Chapter 13, these values had deep roots in British political culture and in the sense of Britain's place in the world.
The constraint, however, was of Britain's strategic weakness in the EMU negotiations. At one level this weakness was a matter of failing to form effective coalitions around key British policy objectives. But at a deeper level, this weakness stemmed from Britain's lack of structural power to persuade or cajole its____________________
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Publication information: Book title: The Road to Maastricht:Negotiating Economic and Monetary Union. Contributors: Kenneth Dyson - Author, Kevin Featherstone - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 644.
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