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This conceptual chapter aids the analysis of the British political elite. It examines elite theory and for the purpose of the book, provides a definition of the British elite. With the aid of elite theory, this chapter offers an understanding of the reasons why it was the left-wing of the Labour Party, and the right-wing of the Conservative Party that were largely against EEC membership, albeit for different reasons. Also examined is the interaction between the political elite and the wider elite, and the extent of the influence that finance capital has on decision-making in Britain. The relevance of public opinion is also discussed. The chapter analyses the extent of the influence that public opinion has on the British political elite in respect of policy-making, and how the elite are able to manipulate mass opinion.

in The British political elite and Europe, 1959–1984

Testing the book’s central argument, this chapter examines the positions taken by individual MPs, the two major parties, the British press, and public opinion over the twenty-five year period. Analysis is also provided on the effects on individual members of the political elite in the light of European events. There are a number of trajectories related to this chapter which can be found in Appendix 6. These individual trajectories show the various and often changing positions of MPs over the period 1959–84, and whether they supported leave or remain in the 1975 referendum. In respect of the press, the trajectories cover the twelve leading British newspapers and journals and their positions on EEC membership. The trajectories on public opinion clearly demonstrate, for example, how opinion shifted from being anti-membership to strongly pro-membership leading up to Wilson’s decision to hold a referendum in 1975.

in The British political elite and Europe, 1959–1984
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For some members of the political elite, the public’s verdict on the 1975 referendum meant the issue was over at least for the foreseeable future. For others, however, the debate continued. A large number of Labour left-wing anti-Marketeers were unhappy at how the defeat on Europe was followed by a general offensive by the leadership against the left of the party on other issues. This chapter examines the events following the outcome of the referendum including the resurgence of the Labour left as a consequence of the 1979 general election defeat. Also analysed are the Labour Party conferences held in 1981 which were dominated by the left. These conferences formed the cornerstone of policy for the forthcoming 1983 general election, and for some right-wingers in the Labour Party, provided the catalyst for the Social Democratic Party. This chapter focuses primarily on the Labour Party, yet it was the Conservatives that was to be the party most deeply divided over the issue of Europe.

in The British political elite and Europe, 1959–1984

Chapter 5 focuses primarily on the problems faced by Prime Minister Wilson in his struggle to keep his party united. Following Macmillan’s failed attempt at EEC entry, Wilson also found himself facing not only US pressure to apply for membership, but also from the pro-European right-wingers in his party. Having been seen to have strongly supported Gaitskell’s passionate speech opposing EEC membership, Wilson needed to be able to make an application without on the one hand appearing to shift his position on Europe, and on the other hand attempting to maintain party unity for electoral advantage. During this period, WiIson also faced the difficulty of combating leadership challenges from Roy Jenkins and James Callaghan. For both Macmillan’s and Wilson’s respective applications, the conditions of entry were inextricably linked with party management, with both leaders lacking total commitment to Europe. Wilson also used pressure from the CBI for Britain to join the EEC to his own advantage. As a consequence of his application, Wilson gained the support of British business.

in The British political elite and Europe, 1959–1984
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Throughout the debates on EEC membership, sovereignty has been referred to by several of the leading actors to either advance or prohibit the cause of Britain in Europe. This chapter is therefore devoted to the history and concept of this highly complex term. The internal and external challenges to parliamentary sovereignty are examined, including the power of the executive, governance, globalisation and British foreign policy. Numerous examples of the various types of sovereignty and how these have been utilised by MPs are included. These examples show precisely how the term can be open to exploitation, particularly over the course of Britain’s relationship with Europe. This chapter therefore demonstrates how this concept has been used by members of the political elite to influence an unaware British public.

in The British political elite and Europe, 1959–1984
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The crucial House of Commons vote on the principle of EEC membership and the subsequent severe ructions in the Labour Party, as a result of sixty-nine Labour MPs defying the whip to vote with the Conservatives, are analysed in this chapter. The 1970 general election is also of particular significance insofar as the successful Conservative leader Edward Heath was determined to take Britain into the EEC in spite of public opposition and a manifesto which promised only to negotiate on membership. The debates on Europe during this particular period were fought in the midst of a power struggle within the two major parties. The chapter examines the individual motives of Heath, and the extent of the Conservative government’s determination to ensure EEC membership.

in The British political elite and Europe, 1959–1984