Britain's mood about the euro is
mysterious, complex and for politicians, potentially dangerous.
This country does not love either European
political integration or the currency that now symbolises it.
But with a weary, almost defeated, sigh it
thinks the euro will arrive here anyway.
Pro-euro ministers make a lot of the
physical arrival of euro notes and coins, followed by that sinister-sounding
character, 'Euro Creep'.
With millions of Britons holidaying and
working on the continent, travelling there and back with casual ease, it is
inevitable that the new currency will become part of everyday life for many -
particularly the better-off and therefore the more articulate.
British tourists may be the first to get
used to the currency.
But it will not be entirely an 'over there'
phenomenon. It will quickly creep into shops here too.
Retailers, including those led by anti-euro
campaigners such as Dixons, will accept euros because the alternative would
be a loss of business.
There will be a pronounced geographical
London, Kent and other parts of the English
south east, already heavily visited by other Europeans, will find more euros
arriving more quickly than Scotland, Wales or the north of England.
But Northern Ireland, sharing its land
border with euroland, may find the most dramatic impact.
Anyone with a sense of political history
will find this piquant.
It was the Tories under John Major's
chancellorship who toyed with the idea of a European parallel currency,
circulating alongside national currencies, as a less-intrusive alternative to
Now Labour ministers hope euro-creep will
do much of their propaganda job for them.
The truth is it will do some, but not all.
The latest polling by ICM for The Guardian
found that a substantial majority - 58% to 31% - would still vote 'no' to
Britain joining the euro if they were asked now.
Public opinion shifting
That is a narrower anti-euro vote than a
month ago, and a lot less than a year ago, when 71% were against joining and
only 18% were in favour.
Tony Blair has been widely accused of
excessive timidity in delaying the real political argument over the euro.
But look at those shifts in public opinion.
Even minus a bold political campaign by the
Government, his delaying tactics are starting to look wily, if hardly heroic.
Labour announced its five economic tests
shortly after the 1997 election.
Their guardian then and now is the
chancellor, Gordon Brown.
Hefty amount of hunch
Labour's position was that there was no
political or constitutional barrier to joining; but the five tests must be
Mr Brown, of course, is less enthusiastic
about the new currency than is the Prime Minister and his tests are not as
scientific as they may seem.
They include a hefty amount of hunch.
So the chancellor wields enormous personal
power over the timing of the referendum. Yet Mr Blair has promised that the
tests will be applied by half way through this parliament; so neither of them
can delay indefinitely.
What we are seeing now, as the euro
arrives, is a steady push by pro-euro ministers to create a climate of
expectation which makes it ever harder for Mr Brown to block his colleague's
desire for a referendum.
Euro isn't inevitable
The Tories, more unitedly hostile to the
single currency than ever before, now need above all to shift a growing
public sense that the euro is somehow inevitable.
That same ICM poll showed a dramatic change
in the number of people who thought Britain would be in the eurozone within a
decade - up from 31% a year ago to double that, 62%, now.
If Labour wants to push this to a real vote
in the coming year, or more likely in spring 2003, it has to answer the
constitutional fears of the millions who fear that the euro means EU-wide
taxation and the effective end of the nation state.
That argument is wide open and arouses
intense passions, perhaps deeper passions than any other issue in public
Because of that, the euro is not
In the end, despite the move in opinion, it will
be accepted or rejected because one side loses and the other wins a profound
national argument about who we are and where our future lies.
from bbc.co.uk: Wednesday, 19 December 2001