The Conservatives and European Integration: Electoral Strategy, Party Competition and Modernization
24 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2013
Increased support for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) adds to the difficulties that the issue of European integration causes for the British Conservative Party. A hard Eurosceptic party supporting withdrawal from the European Union (EU), UKIP is winning support from disaffected Conservatives and intensifying divisions with the Conservative parliamentary party on the EU issue. This paper examines how the EU issue has re-emerged as a difficult and divisive one for the Conservatives. It firstly explores the challenge posed by UKIP and the Conservative response, drawing on the literature on competition between niche and mainstream parties. The paper then examines the extent to which the Conservatives have pursued a soft Eurosceptic policy while in coalition with the more pro-integration Liberal Democrats, divisions between hard and soft Eurosceptics within the Conservative Party, and the limits of Cameron’s modernisation project in relation to the EU issue. Finally, the paper considers the significance of Cameron’s January 2013 announcement that a Conservative government elected in 2015 would seek a ‘new settlement’ between the UK and EU and then hold an ‘in-out’ referendum. The paper draws on data from interviews with MPs, MEPs and party officials conducted by the authors, as well as our own surveys of parliamentary candidates, analysis of manifestos and YouGov and British Election Study data.
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