Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

John Major: Tiptoeing into Europe Clark Kent of British Politics Hides His Bent toward Super-Europe

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

John Major: Tiptoeing into Europe Clark Kent of British Politics Hides His Bent toward Super-Europe

Article excerpt

POOR John Major: Even when he wins, he loses. The latest opinion poll, taken after his remarkably successful gamble in challenging his critics within the Conservative Party, showed that his electoral fortunes had risen by precisely one percentage point, to 25 percent. A large proportion of his fellow citizens regard him as a loser (56 percent), weak (61 percent), and unimpressive (68 percent). The ordinary, unexcitable qualities that in 1990 got him elected leader of the Tory Party soon started to work against him. Once, his great advantage was that he was not Margaret Thatcher; not anymore. Above all, people don't like so much division and argument in the governing party.

The division has of course been over Europe. It was a subject that divided the Labour government in 1974-75, and after Mrs. Thatcher was bundled out of office five years ago it came back to divide the Conservatives. Then, as now, unknown MPs found themselves, to their great delight, being courted by newspapers and television with an assiduity which only Cabinet ministers can usually expect. The attention became too good to give up merely for the sake of party unity; so the dispute went on. The rebels weren't many in number, but they tended to drown out the voices of their opponents by the intensity of their argument. Much the same thing happened in 1975. Then the Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson, called a national referendum that was won by a 2-to-1 majority by the pro-Europeans.

In those days, John Major was strongly pro-European; many of his generation of Conservatives were and are. My guess is that his fundamental instincts haven't changed in the slightest. His problem has been that there are still many resentful Thatcherites in the parliamentary party, and his majority in the House of Commons (unlike Margaret Thatcher's) is so slim, that he has had to pretend to be skeptical about Europe to hold his party together.

Now, though, he has defeated his opponents and can be his own man. True, the win wasn't overwhelming; in fact it was much less than Major and his team had hoped for. But it has silenced his critics, and he has already begun to set the tone for the remaining two years of his government: a moderate, careful pro-European approach. …

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