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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

The Conservative Conference & Euro-Sceptical Motions 1992-95

Paper No. 23

Martin Ball

In Memory of David Regan

Whose work lives on, in that of his students

Foreword by Jonathan Collett

Since our foundation in February 1989 Bruges Group publications have sought to demolish the collectivist and corporatist myths of post-war European politics. The notion of the inevitability of federalist ideas has been destroyed by outward, liberal and free-thinking arguments put forward by Brugistes. These have ably supported the political logic and intellectual coherence of Margaret Thatcher's Bruges speech so that our present position is one of intellectual strength.

One particular myth advanced by the integrationists is that European political union is keenly favoured by the young in comparison to the supposedly tired old reactionary rhetoric of the "anti-marketeers". This myth too has been debunked and it is now apparent that the coming generation is more attracted by the ideas of individual liberty, democratic accountability and global trading links. Each new influx into Parliament (and the ranks of journalism and academia) brings freshly inspired Euro-realists in contrast to the remaining Euro-fanaties of the post-Second World War generation who cling to the discredited ideas of Monnet, Spinelli and Delors.

A recent high-profile Conference held by the National Association of Conservative Graduates (an official organisation under the wing of the Youth Department at Central Office) voted overwhelmingly for Britain's withdrawal from the European Union in the absence of a repatriation of powers at this year's Intergovernmental conference. This is increasingly the view of a new generation of Young Conservatives. Each year the Foreign Affairs debate at the Conservative Party Conference proves this to be the case as do the large number of fringe events held at the Conference on the European debate. The Bruges Group fringe meeting at the 1995 Blackpool conference attracted an audience of two hundred people to hear lain Duncan Smith MP.

Martin Ball's publication reflects this new realism in the Conservative Party. His paper shows the depth and range of Euro-sceptic opinion held at grass roots level. The sources of these views are shown not to be narrow or predictable but strongly held across all constituencies. The trend has been an ever-increasing tide of Euro-sceptical motions confirming the observations of those who attend the Conservative Party Conference. Indeed the strength of commitment to the nation state and the vigour with which this manifests itself is shown to have actually increased, by the author's excellent system of classification.

Not only has there been an absolute majority of Euro-sceptical motions over integrationist ones in the years studied by Martin Ball, but this has increased relatively in the last three years. A hardening of attitudes has occurred amongst a body that was already sceptical. Conservative Party members are now so disenchanted with the EU that they will settle for nothing less than a net retrieval of powers.

Conservatives have traditionally believed that Britain should be able to govern itself and that those who govern should be re-elected or thrown out according to how they perform. In the absence of a negotiating position designed to ensure that this becomes the case it is clear that Britain's withdrawal from the EU is an item increasingly on the agenda for the Conservative Party up to and beyond the next General Election.

The potential gulf between the two parties over Europe is of a magnitude which ought to be electorally decisive. It is now time for the Conservative Party to adequately reflect the deeply held and eloquently articulated views of the vast majority of its membership. Most Conservatives want at the very least to see a rejection of the single currency on economic grounds, reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, the curbing of the European Court of Justice, and a maintenance of the current veto powers held by nation states.

With a General Election looming within the next year, there has never been a better time for the Conservative Party to meet this challenge. Rhetoric is no longer enough and action must now follow. Britain’s democratic and constitutional future is at stake and the prize for courage and vision is an outward-looking but self-governing future of economic prosperity.

Jonathan Collett
Campaign Director, the Bruges Group
London, June 1996


This pamphlet seeks to assess the extent of Euro-scepticism amongst Conservative Party grassroots members by analysing the motions submitted to the Party's Annual Conferences of 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995.1 These conferences lie between the 1992 General Election victory and the imminence of another general election in late 1996 or early 1997. They cover almost a Parliament's worth of Annual Conferences, spanning the fabled mid-term blues period. Therefore any tensions of the time would be expected to be reflected in the policy demands of motions.

The pamphlet starts with an introduction to the Conservative Conference and goes on to explain the process by which the concerns of members become official motions for debate. It then groups the motions to determine the full extent of hostility to the European Community, and in particular what it is they are hostile to. In concluding it considers what the motions tell us about the mood of grassroots Tory members in relation to the government's European policy.

The Conservative Party Conference

Why study the motions
Of the alternative ways of measuring grassroots opinions, studying conference motions offers the best approach. They represent an easily accessible and identifiable source of opinions on a wide range of issues. Motions are important in relaying to the outside world the issues of most concern to party members; they are indicative of the very matters likely to be discussed at closed party meetings. Crucially they are a unit of measurement grassroots policy agitation. From them it is possible to gauge the opinions of ordinary members. The procedure to submit a motion is open to all qualifying associations regardless of whether they have an MP or whether they donate to central party funds. All members, not just the great and the good, can have their say on policy.

Conventional opinions of Conservative grassroots members have viewed them as passive, and servile to the party leadership. This portrayal developed as a consequence of two factors. One was the contemptuous dismissal of members by party leaders, most famously typified by Balfour's assertion that he would rather heed the advice of his valet than that of representatives to the Conservative Conference. The other is the legendary deferential obedience of the mass of Conservative Party mem bers. Nowhere has this dutiful respect more prominently been displayed than at the Annual Conference which constitutes the yearly gathering of the united faithful. If this stereotype holds true for the observed period 1992-5, then criticism by the conference faithful should accordingly be restrained and mild.

Understanding Conservative conferences
The first point which needs clearing up is that there is actually no such event as the Conservative Party Conference. The event is in fact the Annual Conference of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations, the voluntary body encompassing all the local constituency organisations and the various specialist groups. As the 1995 Conference Chairman told that year's representatives, it is the 'conference of ordinary party members'.

The standard textbook opinion of Conservative Annual Conferences is to be found in Sam Beer's seminal work, Modem British Politics, and in Robert McKenzie's classic, British Political Parties. Conferences were regarded as powerless in terms of policy-making, with their purpose being to provide good "PR" for the Party. Simply put, the 'party's annual conferences exercise no decision-making capacity' (Norton & Aughey, 1981). In contrast the Labour Party Annual Conference constituted, at least until Blair, a real policy-making forum with the ability to make manifesto commitments. The downside of this power is that policy disagreements may be all too publicly aired.

This long-standing assessment of the Conservatives Conference has been challenged. Richard Kelly (1989) suggests that by judging the Annual Conference in isolation, commentators are misreading the interaction between members and the Party leadership. He claims that it is more revealing to look at the Annual Conference as the final event in a year-round series of conferences. He also considers that concentration on the formal business of the conference fails to take into account the influence that members have informally. Furthermore, Philip Norton has recently reasserted, in a publication distributed at the 1995 Conference, that the 'conference really does matter'.2 It does so because the mass of activities occurring outside the conference hall, the "fringe", comprising speaker meetings, and extensive socialising, allow an opportunity for members to express their concerns to Ministers, MPs, and senior Party officials. Writing recently in Government and Opposition, Dennis Kavanagh claimed the conference to be influential in terms of 'setting the parameters for party policy'.3

What is indisputable is that the debates are opportunities for party activists to discuss policy and air their views directly to the senior politicians present. Government Ministers (and Spokespersons when in Opposition) are guests of the conference and the relationship is underlined when they are invited to reply to the debate. Voting on the debated motion takes place after the debate and before the reply speaker, and is usually by a show of hands. A formal count of votes is very rare, and has only happened once in recent times; after the 1992 Conference debate on Foreign Affairs and Europe. The width of the winning margin is not recorded, except that the debate chairman has the discretion to describe whether the motion is carried "unanimously" or "by an overwhelming majority". In any case, the debated motions are so anodyne that few can think of reasons not to support them. Speakers often are opposed to the motion because it does "not go far enough'; which usually implies it was not sufficiently right-wing.

Observation of conferences in recent years might suggest that the situation has been completely reversed. Conservative divisions over Europe have shattered the pretence of unity in full view of the public. It is Labour's Conferences which are now held up as masterclasses in media-management. Recent conferences have coincided with an unprecedented anger from Conservative grassroots members over the government's performance, and dissension with the central planks of its policies. The increase in open dispute is due in part to the long tenure of the Conservative Party in government. All opposition, even from non-Conservative organisations, to the administration must locate its campaigning work within Conservative circles. In consequence, non-Conservatives find common cause with dissatisfied party members in attacking the government. These developments signify the changing role of activists and the part played by ideology in the Conservative Party.

t still holds true is that the Conservative Party establishment wishes to exercise control over the proceedings. The event is enormously important, being one of the key occasions when the Party is on display to a much wider audience. Newspapers devote much space to coverage and the BBC broadcasts the proceedings. Factional groupings therefore place great importance on obtaining exposure for their cause.

Jumping the motion hurdles
The mechanism for submitting motions is in accord with the corporatist nature of the Conservative Party's structures. Constituency Association motions have to be submitted through the relevant Area Offices, who then pass them on to the National Union for consideration by the Conference Motions Committee. The national specialist groups send their motions direct to the National Union.

The process operates on a tight schedule. Potential motions have to be presented and passed at a committee meeting of the sponsoring body before the deadline date in early summer. The discussion of motions has to be included in the notification of the meeting, thereby giving all committee members the opportunity to propose motions. To get this item on the agenda, it must have been requested at the previous committee meeting, usually some months previously. The potential motion writer has to be alert early in the year to create an opportunity to put forward an opinion on aspects of policy. The protracted nature of the process suggests that the intention is to make it as difficult as possible to submit a motion. Different practices operate for different groups, and some are more lax about the finer points of the constitution. Being successful can depend upon who you are and what position you hold, and, crucially, what you want to say. For example, a senior officer will find it easier to get his motion adopted than would a relatively new member. Critical motions are judged to be too controversial for the association to sponsor, for fear of being tarred with the brush of disloyalty. Supportive motions have an easier ride, especially if they are being 'pushed' by the professional section of the party.4

The origins of the wording of sponsored motions are varied. Sometimes they are written by individuals concerned about a particular issue. Alternatively they could be the product of consultation between several members. At the selection stage, when the submitting body determines which, if any, go forward, motions are liable to be amended. To proceed they have to be sponsored by one of the recognised bodies for submitting motions, although they go forward in the name of an individual. After all, somebody has to propose the motion to be selected for debate at the Annual Conference. The debated motions are, of course, not run-of-the-mill entries. Rather, they are often planted, even though this can go wrong.5 In addition to manipulation of the motions chosen, evidence of party stage-management is provided by the selection of prospective parliamentary candidates to propose the debated motions at the conferences prior to Westminster Elections.

It is useful is to have an understanding of the context in which motions were framed. The short period of opportunity for submission makes it possible to focus upon factors affecting the tone and content of motions. To be precise, motions reflect the views and concerns of members for the months of May to July each year. Therefore let us remind ourselves of the circumstances in which the 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995 motions were written, approved, and submitted. In 1992 the glow of electoral triumph was still bright. But by 1993 the local elections defeat and a downturn in popularity were sapping confidence. 1994 was the year of the double whammy of defeat in the May local elections and in the June European Elections. 1995 saw losses in local councils where defeat was previously thought unimaginable. Consequently, it was likely there would be a louder chorus of disgruntlement than usual.

All eligible sponsoring organisations may submit a motion, regards of the strength of their membership or the amount of quota payments made. No association or group is barred, unless proscribed. Some may be at a disadvantage for various reasons. For example, the association may not have the administrative back-up to keep the submissions within the set timetable. There is no hiding the fact, however, that the facility to submit motions exists. It is in the public domain; motions are displayed in the Conference Handbook, and the rules of procedure for submitting motions are laid down.

Those motions which are listed in the Conference Handbook are the ones which cleared all the hurdles having successfully negotiated the system. But how many were withdrawn? Or disallowed under the rules? Or never saw the light of day, because submitting motions is frowned upon by the local party establishment? Unfortunately any evidence of this aspect would be anecdotal and incomplete. The main cause of exclusion is the charge that the motion is ‘unhelpful to the government position’, particularly where it is made in sensitive areas of policies.

Appreciating the motion phraseology
Any analysis must take into account the phraseology of the motions submitted. The basic point is that motions will not be specifically critical of government policies, but will tend to couch opposition in terms of the need for better presentation of policies, of getting the public to understand the policy better. Throughout the 1980s it was the call for clearer presentation of government policy which indicated grassroots unease and became something of a cliché. Stuart Ball (1994) argues that coded criticism has become the standard practice chiefly because it 'avoids open conflict with the leadership, and a facade of unity is preserved by the pretence that nothing is fundamentally wrong with the policy which better publicity or Ministerial co-ordination would not solve'.

It would therefore be a pointless exercise to assess conference motions solely in terms of whether they expressed support for the government or not. Most motions begin by either 'congratulating', praising', 'welcoming' or another form of words to the same effect. It could hardly be otherwise when everybody is ultimately on the same side. Therefore the classic formula for a dissenting motion is to begin with a demonstration of support, which is then qualified with a warning about the future direction of policy, or which proceeds to put forward policy contradictory to that of the government. Only the really daring and bold fail to observe this false greeting, and jump straight in with their criticisms. However, the critical motions do not necessarily attack the government by name. It is as if there is a separation between the policy and those actually administering it.

Motion division and motivation
Before proceeding with the analysis, it should be pointed out that this is not a truly scientific dissection, although it does provide an attempt to relay faithfully the favoured policies of the Tory grassroots. Two factors which have bearing on the analysis, must be considered. The first relates to the ordering of the motions in the Conference handbook, which has already been decided upon before their release. The second concerns the motives of those submitting motions, which limits my ability to generalise about the views of individual grassroots members at large.

Firstly, the division of motions into the various subjects is arbitrary. Many motions could be plausibly included in other subject groupings. Of course, this reflects the inter-relationship of many policy issues, and in part, the multi-clause structure of many motions. It is the conference organisers who decide in which section motions are placed and in what order within those sections the motions are listed. Whether they use this privilege to create a misleading picture of grassroots' concerns and priorities is a question for discussion later.

To illustrate the difficulty over where motions should be placed, consider the following: Motion 48 submitted by Hendon states, 'This Conference believes that Britain should not join a single currency which would restrict our control over our own destiny'. It is included in the Economy and Taxation section, although it could be argued that a more suitable section would be Foreign Affairs and Europe. Whether the motion is concerned more with the economic practicalities of the changeover to a new currency, or with the political consequences of a loss of national sovereignty, is debatable.

Some of the subject sections remain constant over time, some undergo slight alterations from year to year, others come and go according to political fashion and external events. Four factors are at work in determining the choice of subject sections. Firstly, they mirror the structure of government departments. Secondly, new subject sections are created to reflect new government initiatives, such as the Citizen's Charter and Deregulation. Thirdly, large subject sections are occasionally split to highlight an area which, for political reasons, the government wants debated separately, such as Housing and Small Business. Fourthly, subject sections must accommodate issues where grassroots' agitation is strong, such as Sunday Trading and the Family.

While the Subject areas themselves are listed in alphabetical order, there are no hard and fast rules for the listing of motions within their subject sections. Motions are grouped according to their regional area, starting with English constituencies, followed by Wales and Scotland, and ending with motions from the specialist national groups and the Youth organisations. Another possible correlation is that the first half dozen or so motions invariably praise the government's performance or support its policy stance. Unhelpful and critical motions are placed lower down the list.

The second consideration is that the motions submitted may not be representative of the views of grassroots' members at large. Those who do not submit motions may be content with the government's performance, and not feel the need to voice their support. On the other hand, those with strong feelings on particular issues have the motivation to express themselves. Although the motions submitted may be unrepresentative of the views of the wider membership, they are important indicators of the mood of active members.

A closer look at the motions
The number of motions submitted in 1995 is slightly higher than in the three previous years. It is interesting to note that the total number of motions submitted for each of the past four Conferences hovers around the 1200 level. The actual figures are as follows: in 1992, 1190; in 1993, 1200; in 1994, 1160; and this year, 1236. That is a difference between the highest and the lowest of only 76, representing a fluctuation of around 5% of the total each year.

To compare with years outside my study: there were 1411 motions in 1991, and 1095 in 1986. The total in 1991 contained 168 on Foreign Policy, of which The Guardian (21/9/91), described 64 as being 'bristle towards Brussels'. Education, with 141, had the most in 1986. Economic Policy and Taxation was second, and in third place there were 90 motions on Party Policy and Public Relations (Kelly, 1989).

In terms of the overall 1995 distribution, the usual suspects attract the largest number of motions. Ahead of Economy and Taxation, and Foreign Affairs and Europe, are Home Affairs and Law and Order. For each of the past four years Home Affairs has numbered over 200, with the 1993 figure of 244 motions accounting for 20% alone of that year's total. Of all the other subject sections Education has the most, with 5-7%. The only pretender to the big three in recent years has been the Party Policy section, which peaked in 1994 with 124 motions, or 10% of that year's total. In accord with Stuart Ball's point above, anger arising from defeats in both the local and European elections was directed towards the party organisation in terms of the need for policy to be put across more clearly to the public.

The Foreign Affairs and Europe subject section
The subject billing of Foreign Affairs and Europe gives a misleading impression. The reality is somewhat different, with an overwhelming majority of motions in this section concentrating on European Community matters. These EC motions are motions which have a specific bearing on the policies and institutions of the European Community, either complaining about present practices or proposing new departures. Under this definition it is possible to disregard those motions which refer to Europe in passing and are not overtly directed towards the European Community. The non-EC motions are those not specifically concerned with the European Community.

The table below demonstrates the division on these criteria.

Figure 1
EC v. Non-EC breakdown of motions in Foreign Affairs & Europe Subject section
1992 1993 1994 1995
EC-specific 188 91 83 134
non-EC 8 9 4 5
Total 196 100 87 139
The non-EC motions have covered: (in 1992) a settlement in Yugoslavia, Overseas Development Aid, Hong Kong, strengthening the United Nations, World population, South Africa, spreading democracy, assisting democracy in Eastern Europe; (in 1993) the Israeli arms ban, troops in Yugoslavia, the UK’s permanent UN seat, the UK & peace-keeping forces, Overseas Aid & world poverty, the UK & UN Security Council, Hong Kong, violence in Yugoslavia, assistance to Eastern Europe; (in 1994) two motions on GB's permanent seat on the UN Security Council, advancing peace and human rights, and a call to cap foreign aid; (in 1995) Kashmir, Yugoslavia, the Christian community in Southern Sudan, Bosnia, and Overseas Aid.

The separation of Europe motions from Foreign Affairs motions reveals that there is little interest in foreign policy matters outside the European Community sphere. The main preoccupation of world wide foreign affairs is to preserve the UK’s permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, and in particular to prevent it being converted into a European Community permanent seat, as was recently recommended by the Italian government.

Euro motions in other subject sections
As indicated earlier there are a number of motions which could have been included in different subject sections. Many of these are Euro- related motions and demonstrate the Euro-sceptical sentiments of many members across a range of policy areas.

The table below illustrates the showing of EC-specific motions in other subject sections.6

Figure 2
1992 1993 1994 1995
Animal Welfare 6 2 5 -
Citizen’s Charter & Public services 1 0 0 -
Defence 1 0 0 3
Deregulation - 14 9 7
Economy & Taxation 9 23 8 26
Education & Employment - - - 1
Electoral & Constitutional 0 - 0 2
Employment and Training 2 10 5 -
Environment 1 0 0 0
Food, Farming & Fisheries 20 16 16 30
Home Affairs 4 1 0 2
Misc 1 0 0 0
Small Business - - - 2
Trade & Industry 2 2 4 9
Transport 0 0 0 1
TOTAL 47 68 47 83
A dash (-) signifies that no section existed in that year.

It is clear that there are a defined number of subjects in which the European dimension of policy is of concern to members. These can be narrowed down to key themes: anger at EC Directives and bureaucracy; rejection of a single currency and EMU; opposition to the Social Charter; support for reform, if not abolition, of the Common Agricultural Policy; and preserving the sovereignty of British fishing grounds.

Euro-motions all together
Because all the motions concerned with the European Community's policies and institutions are spread among different subject sections it makes it difficult to see the wider picture of Tory members' disposition towards the EC. Creating a new section, called 'EC-motions', makes it possible to bring together all the motions concerned with the EC. By doing so the whole picture of both hostility towards and support for the government's European policy can be observed. Adding the number of EC-motions in the Foreign Affairs & Europe section to the number of EC-motions outside it creates the new 'EC motions' grouping.

Figure 3
1992 1993 1994 1995
In Foreign Affairs & Europe section 188 91 83 134
Outside Foreign Affairs & Europe section 47 68 47 83
TOTAL EC-MOTIONS 235 159 130 217
As % of Total Motions 19.8% 12.4% 11.2% 17.4%
Position is subject ranking 1st 2nd 2nd 1st
The full extent of grassroots members' interest in the question of Europe is thus revealed.

Having brought all the EC-motions together it is possible to begin the task of breaking them down to individual issues of concern. To do this requires that they are subdivided into individual policy positions. This is difficult. Many motions have a number of different parts, dealing with a variety of policies. How motions are labelled is obviously subjective.

If there is a list of points in the motion then the first item is taken to be its main concern. If it deals with just two issues, and concentrates more on one of them, then that is recognised as the motion’s main concern. Where the two issues are linked - for example the call for a referendum to demonstrate opposition to a single currency - then the chronological order has been considered, i.e. the referendum must come first so that the opposition can be demonstrated, in deciding what is the thrust of the motion. Where 'buzz phrases', such as "Europe of Nations" are used, that is the primary point raised. Motions should not be counted more than once. If the multi-part motions were broken down to their individual requests, from the part sentences and lists, then the end result would be a total far in excess of the actual number submitted. This would involve discussing about 500 'part-motions'. But, while this might be interesting, it would complicate any analysis.

The table of all Euro-motions [see figure 6 at end of text] shows the shape and extent of Tory members' multi-faceted opposition to the EC. They want a referendum about Europe in some form or other; most probably to rule out participation in a single currency. They no longer talk of the need to create a level playing field, but more of a straightforward repatriation of administration powers from EC institutions. Linked to this is an aversion to any further integration. Similarly there is hostility to Brussels directives and bureaucratic interference. Ranged against this widespread scepticism, there is little enthusiasm for the UK to be at the 'Heart of Europe', or for closer ties. Nor has support for a single currency or the Social Charter been forthcoming.

It is interesting to note how few of the motions actually demand party unity. Government spokespersons, Central Office media 'spin-doctors' and senior voluntary party figures may make frequent calls for Euro-rebels to heed the desire of ordinary members for the party to unite and stop squabbling over Europe. However, the table demonstrates that it is not a pressing matter with motion submitters. The Party hierarchy has not been able to generate a censorious grassroots opinion of the Euro-rebels. If anything, events such as the withdrawal of the whip from the 'Westminster Eight' demonstrate the opposite. The rebels are supported personally for their integrity, and for their policy stance.

Indeed some apparently innocuous motions appearance raise the possibility of the UK leaving the EC; and this important aspect deserves further scrutiny.

Proposals for withdrawal
The 1995 motions include two which advocate withdrawal from the European Community. Of these, motion 507, from Harborough, wants the Government to 'leave the European Union by the year 2000'; and the second, motion 558 from Woodspring, calls 'on the Government to withdraw from the European Union rather than concede any further loss of sovereignty'. The prospect of the UK leaving the EC has been very much a 'taboo' subject, even among most Euro-sceptics. Calls for withdrawal would in the past be eschewed in favour of the UK getting a better deal from membership through looser ties. In part this was a tactical decision; it prevented Euro-sceptics being side-lined by the alleged lack of contact with the realities of international politics. However, two instances of senior Conservative figures questioning the UK’s membership of the European union are Norman Lamont's speech to The Selsdon Group at the 1994 Annual Conference, and Jonathan Aitken's speech to the House of Commons in March 1996. Both have put the potential withdrawal on the agenda by saying publicly what many say in private. The option of leaving the EU is now a matter of public debate.

This policy option had been raised in 1994 by Bow and Poplar, who submitted a motion calling upon the Government to 'leave the European Union’. The impact of this was not serious and it is easy for the Tory party hierarchy to dismiss the urgings of Bow and Poplar - a safe Labour seat and an association giving little in the way of quota payments. However, the sponsors of the 1995 motions tell us something different; that deep-rooted antagonism to the European Community is not confined to the "lunatic fringe" or to the malcontent. Both the sponsoring constituencies, Harborough and Woodspring, are pillars of the grassroots' community. They have new, young MPs, both of whom were among the co-authors of the Bearing the Standard,7 which was published prior to the 1992 election. The MPs are loyalists, and one is a government whip.8 Far from being disgruntled 1992 election losers, or those facing huge Labour majorities, they are strong Conservative associations. Harborough met its 94/95 quota payment of just over £8,000, while Woodspring handed over a total of £15,000 for the quota years 91/2, 92/3, and 93/4.

But these two constituencies are not alone in raising the spectre of withdrawal. In 1995, Motion number 461, from Kensington and Chelsea, demanded the end of 'Britain's membership of the European Union, if our European partners are unwilling to abandon their plans to create a European state'. Motion 526, submitted by Rochford and Southend East, warned that if 'fundamental reform of the European Union is not secured' then there should be a referendum to determine the people's view on a ‘ separate relationship with the European Union’.

Something else of note is the battle by Proxy. Associations such as Worcester and Loughborough with pro-government line MPs, submitted motions defending the government's proposed tactics. Therefore the argument that only the disgruntled submit motions is tempered by the appearance of motions defending the government position. It appears that the Euro-phile lobby have adopted the tactics of the sceptics. In response, constituencies with Euro-sceptical Members, for example Billericay and Macclesfield, submitted motions backing the stance adopted by their MP.


The new classification
Previous academic studies by Richard Rose and Mike Wilson have assessed the role played by conference motions in the Conservative Party.9 Whereas Rose considered motions in terms of inter-party ideological division and convergence, and Wilson used motions to assess the strength of ideological factions within the Conservative Party, motions are better seen as an indication of intra-party strife. It is more revealing to assess motions based on the axis of whether they give qualified (if critical) support for the government's position or are openly hostile. This approach would allow for a clearer assessment of the motives of those submitting motions as a device to criticise the government's policy and performance. Therefore a new classification is required to assess the level of criticism of government policy.

Using this new classification with regard to the single currency, the following categories, fleshed out with examples of real motions, are derived. The first classification (Class 1) covers motions supportive of the government's policy over single currency of 'wait and see'. An example of this type is motion 136 (submitted in 1995): 'This Conference notes the single currency opt-out, negotiated by the Prime Minister at Maastricht, provides Parliament with the flexibility to decide whether joining a single currency is in Britain's economic self- interest when and if the time comes.'

The second classification (Class 2) covers motions which, while supportive of the government itself, are hostile to the government's single currency policy. An example of this type is motion 470 (submitted in 1995): 'This Conference, whilst supporting the Government's wish to play a part at the heart of Europe without accepting the federalist principle, calls on the Government to make a clear statement of opposition to the idea of a single European currency as a matter of principle.'

The third classification (Class 3) covers motions which are openly hostile to a single currency under any circumstances. An example of this type is motion 208 (submitted in 1995): 'This Conference calls upon the Government to recognise that since the price of membership of any European monetary union will be the abandonment of control by the British Parliament to the German Bundesbank over British interest rates, currency values and eventually taxation, conditions for entry will never be right.'

After dividing the 30 motions in 199510 which are concerned with policy over the single currency into these varying degrees of support and dissatisfaction, the outcome is shown in figure 4. The number opposing the single currency outright was double those supporting the government line of playing a long game of 'wait and see', with a small number opposed to the single currency but wishing to remain loyal. No motion opposed the government's single currency policy because it wanted monetary union now, irrespective of the terms of entry.

Figure 4
Breakdown of 30 motions concerned with the single currency
Class 1 9 [motions: 69, 84, 102, 125, 131, 136, 145, 196, & 239]
Class 2 4 [motions: 183, 188, 470, & 538]
Class 3 17 [motions: 48, 76, 91, 94, 141, 143, 155, 160, 208, 220, 236, 458, 478, 485, 495, 496 & 548]
Where are the Euro-sceptic noises coming from?
It would be useful to know which sponsoring organisations are submitting motions on EC-specific matters. That way it is possible to observe where concern about Europe originates. Figure 5 below illustrates the breakdown between Westminster Constituencies, Euro Constituencies, and other groups. The first figure given is the number of motions, and the figure in brackets is the number of individual sponsoring bodies.

Figure 5
A sponsors table for all EC-motions
Sponsor 1992 1993 1994 1995
Westminster Constituency 171 (142) 94 (84) 112 (93) 176 (147)
European Constituency 51 (23) 55 (22) 9 (7) 21 (10)
Other groups 13 (10) 10 (9) 9 (8) 20 (14)
Total 235 159 130 217
A better comparison between the figures requires a weighting system which takes account of the different number of Westminster and Euro- Constituencies. Thus a higher percentage of Euro constituencies submitted motions on Europe then did Westminster constituencies in 1992 and 1993. In 1994 and 1995 the Westminster Constituencies submitted a higher percentage. Euro Constituency motions are usually more supportive of government policy and less critical of the European Community than are those originating from Westminster constituencies. The cynical might claim no surprise in this; the EC, after all, is their raison d'être.

Figure 5 shows a decline in the number of motions sponsored by Euro Constituencies. One reason for the drop in motion submissions by Euro Constituencies is that their structures tend to hibernate after European elections, and only re-activate themselves in the build-up to an election. The Westminster constituencies have greater permanence because they are the prime focus of members' campaigning work and fund-raising activities. To determine whether this fall in submissions from Euro constituencies is the norm, would require an investigation of the corresponding years in the European Parliament election cycle.

A deeper analysis of the source of Euro-scepticism, using the example of the 17 motions opposing the single currency, would require a profiling of the sponsoring organisations: whether they have an elected representative or not; whether that representative is a rebel or a loyalist; and whether the sponsoring organisation meets quota payments or contributes little. A breakdown on these lines is not possible because of the Parliamentary boundary changes which come into effect for the next general election, which means that currently there are no MPs for the new seats. Furthermore, the new constituency associations which have been created have not yet been in existence for a full year; so the amounts of quota payments are unknown. The quota payments analysis is therefore impossible, but the MP analysis can be resolved using the work of Colin Railings and Michael Thrasher11 of Plymouth University who have calculated the notional results for the next General Election by 'distributing' the actual votes cast in the 1992 General Election into the new parliamentary constituencies. It is therefore possible to consider the new associations as though they were already existing constituencies. There are 8 current MPs standing in the 16 associations represented by the 17 anti-single currency motions. One of the motions has been omitted from this constituency based analysis because it is a Young Conservative Area Committee. Seven of the constituencies have notional majorities and in the remaining nine, the mean average notional Conservative vote is 30.6% of the poll.

A question of motion gerrymandering?
Does this hypothesis of motions suggest gerrymandering? Stuart Ball (1994) describes how constituencies have increasingly viewed submitting motions as 'filling the cup. Thereby, 'as resolutions are grouped under subject headings and the total number on each topic counted is taken as a measure of rank-and-file priorities, sending in a resolution in this way becomes a vote in an unofficial but none the less recognisable ballot'. In this sense a league table of grassroots' concerns is compiled. So, if motion submitters intend their motion to be seen in this way then there is a motive for motions being spread around: the aim is to reduce the saliency of particular issues by hiving motions off to other subject sections.

Suspicions are however aroused concerning the placing of motions in the Economy and Taxation section. It is reasonable to suspect that motions which rightly belong in the Foreign Affairs and Europe section are purposely put there, and there is definitely a European aspect to many motions included in the Economy and Taxation section. It can easily be argued that motions are being shifted into that section to mask the true strength of grassroots' unease with the Government's European policy. Something similar appears to be happening with demands for the preservation of the sovereignty of the UK’s fishing grounds. While motions on Fishing grounds are often included in the Food, Farming and Fisheries section, they frequently have little to do with the technicalities of the industry and are more preoccupied with issues of sovereignty and access. These motions arise from a greater realisation that one consequence of further integration into the European Community is a policy of equal access to common European resources.

Suspicions are further heightened by the fact that in 1993 the Home Affairs and Law & Order section also included Electoral and Constitutional Matters; the only year that they were grouped together as a subject. Why was that so? Possibly to ensure that the Foreign Affairs & Europe subject section was not the biggest? With Foreign Affairs & Europe coming a close second in 1992, the addition of around 30 motions on Electoral and Constitutional Matters to Law and Order provided that section with a safety cushion in the event of a strong showing by Euro motions, causing it to be displaced as the biggest.

By its nature the charge of gerrymandering is almost impossible to prove. The only confirmation would be an admission of such a practice, which is unlikely to happen. However, it has been demonstrated that motions are shifted around to diminish the number in the Foreign Affairs and Europe Subject section, by placing them in other sections. It is clearly the case that certain sections are occasionally bloated by the incorporation of other subject motions, to maintain that section’s status as the largest. Such a practice may reasonably be described as gerrymandering.

What does this tell us about the mood of members?
These Conferences occurred at a time of rising disenchantment with the government in general, and a vigorous campaign of opposition to greater European integration arising from Maastricht in particular. Therefore, a large number of motions would be expected to be openly critical in tone and in detail. So it is possible to account for the large number of motions expressing dissent as merely a sign of the times.

This study expresses something more significant. Hostility to the EC is being expressed openly, and motions are less likely to be coded. This rebelliousness is increasing, despite concerted appeals for unity designed to suppress it, and is all the more noteworthy for flying in the face of the strong pressure to silence dissension. Furthermore, motions are more pointed in their criticisms. There has been a move away from a vague all-embracing dislike of "Europe" to honed attacks on specific policies, such as the single currency. This analysis has revealed a wider group of sceptical constituencies than was previously thought the case. The Euro-sceptics' number has increased beyond the normal group of rebels. Previously loyal constituencies have broken ranks to go public with their policy concerns. It is significant that they are no longer reticent about declaring their Euro-scepticism. The inevitable conclusion is that Euro-scepticism runs deeper within the Conservative Party than was previously imagined, and enjoys the support of a large section of its members. The party establishment may attempt to mask grassroots unrest over the government's European policy, but the truth will out.


  1. I use the 'Euro-sceptic' terminology, although some sceptics object to this label and prefer to portray themselves as 'Euro-realists'. Whether they are sceptics or realists is a matter for the reader to decide, and such a discussion lies outside the purpose of this paper.
  2. 'Yes, the Conference really does matter' in Conservative Party Conference special edition of The House Magazine, No. 689, Vol. 20, October 9, 1995.
  3. Dennis Kavanagh, 'British Party Conferences' in Government and Opposition, Vol. 31, Number 1, Winter 1996.
  4. Public admissions of such practices are not ready to hand, although Conservative Party members will be familiar with what is described. One example comes from when Nottingham Euro Constituency was selecting motions to be submitted to the 1993 Annual Conference; tactics involving whipping-out loyalist members, and refusing to have recorded votes, were used to stop five Euro-sceptical motions from being adopted.
  5. The Charter Movement's newsletter Charter News, Issue 35, distributed at the 1993 Conference, delighted in relaying how it took two attempts for the Delyn Association to successfully plant a motion of acceptable wording for debate at that year's conference.
  6. In 1995 the Deregulation section was expanded to take in Competitiveness and Public Services. Environment has undergone several name changes, being coupled to and uncoupled from other subjects.
  7. The authors of Bearing the Standard were a group of prospective candidates, all of whom were subsequently elected. They were tipped as stars to watch, and a number have fulfilled that prophecy by entering the government.
  8. The MP for Harborough is Edward Garnier, and Woodspring is represented by Dr Liam Fox, an assistant government whip.
  9. See Richard Rose, The Problem of Party Government (MacMillan, 1974), and Mike Wilsor’s 'Grass roots Conservatism: motions to the Party Conference' in Neill Nugent and Roger King's The British Right (Saxon House, 1977).
  10. The 30 motions come from adding together the 9 motions supportive of the government line, with the 21 motions opposing.
  11. Notional results for all the new seats are to be found in the Media Guide to the New Parliamentary Constituencies (Local Government Chronicle Elections Centre, 1995), compiled and edited by Colin Railings and Michael Thrasher.


  • Ball, Stuart, and Seldon, Anthony (1994),
  • The Conservative Century, Oxford University Press
  • Beer, Samuel H. (1965), Modern British Politics, Faber
  • Kelly, Richard (1989), Conservative Party Conferences, Manchester University Press
  • McKenzie, Robert (1964), British Political Parties, revised 2nd edition, Heinemann
  • Norton, Philip, and Aughey, Arthur (1981), Conservatives and Conservatism Temple Smith

Table of all EC-motions
Figure 6
All EC-motions in one table
Motions concerned with:
1992 1993 1994 1995
A ban on live animal transport 1 2 4 6
Keeping British border controls 7 - - 2
Opposition to EC bureaucracy/directives 7 20 10 9
Agricultural & CAP reform/abolition 19 6 8 9
Opposition to Social Chapter 1 12 6 14
Anger at EC Court decisions - - 1 2
Opposition to Single Currency & EMU 5 1 6 21
Support for EMU/SC/ERM 3 1 1 -
Favour Enlargement 23 8 2 3
Anti-EPP Group - 1 2 -
Opposition to ERM 3 22 - -
Preserve fishing ground sovereignty 1 4 4 14
Support for government line on SC/EMU 1 - - 9
Opposition to greater EC integration 32 5 7 16
Wanting a level playing field 11 6 12 5
Wanting a Europe of Nation States 9 4 12 5
EC to be an open, looser Community 4 3 2 2
Government to play a positive role in EC 3 5 4 6
Better presentation & more info on EC 7 7 1 2
Criticism of euro-rebels 1 - - -
Wanting a national referendum 11 5 7 25
Calls to repatriate powers - 1 - 11
Preserving national sovereignty 24 10 11 20
Government to use subsidiarity 19 6 3 -
Wanting closer ties with EC - 1 1 -
Calls for party unity - 4 6 5
Use of veto and no to increased QMV - - 3 6
Britain to withdraw from EC - - 1 2
Miscellaneous 43 25 16 20
TOTAL 235 159 130 217


The publication of this paper is an appropriate occasion to say a number of thanks. From the academic world I must pay dutiful respect to the tutors on the MA course in Political Economy at Sheffield University for two years of stimulating teaching. I would like to thank the Department for allowing me the opportunity to flesh out a skeletal academic record. Dr Mike Kenny, in particular, has offered advice and support. Likewise, Peter Morris, now a Professor at Aston University, has given encouragement to my political involvement - on a personal non-partisan level, he would wish me to inform you - long after I ceased to be one of his troublesome students during his time at Nottingham University.

At the outset of this pamphlet tribute is paid to the work of David Regan, who was an inspirational figure for many of his students at Nottingham. I will remember his intellectual vigor, warm friendship, and the passion with which he fought for so many causes. Although he did not share many of my views, he would certainly have approved of this pamphlet. It is a privilege to have known him.

I would also like to express appreciation to Jonathan Collett for his initial warm response to my suggestion of an article, and later for helping to bring the idea to fruition. The Bruges Group is a widely respected organisation and it is an honour to join their distinguished list of authors.

Professor Pat Seyd made a number of helpful comments on an earlier draft, as did Mike Kenny; and Judith Hatton tidied up the English. Dr Martin Holmes made some final incisive suggestions regarding the structure and content.

As is usual inaccuracies remain mine.

Martin Ball,
May 1996.

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