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The Euro: What will happen?

Sunday 6 January 2002

We all love forecasts. The structuring of time is one of most basic human propensities. We are fascinated by past time, particularly our own: genealogy is the Internet’s most successful topic (apart from pornography...) . The 1901 Census website, published this week, will be the most enormous popular success. We are all constantly trying to plan ahead, attempting to structure future time. All political “spinning” is about the manipulation of future time.

Those plans , those forecasts and expectations, all form part of our present. And there’s the rub. Many lives are dominated by fear, however successfully they may be countered. Aneurin Bevan’s autobiography, describing his socialism, was tellingly entitled “In Place of Fear”. All our hopes and apprehensions interpenetrate our present, and in turn influence what we do, and what eventually happens. And the media continue to speculate on how the 1 January introduction of the Euro, as a twelve-country single currency, will impact UK politics. My own view of the change was set out on New Year’s Day. But I did not make a political forecast. Today, the Treasury enters the fray, and declares that there may be no Referendum at all. In today's Observer , Treasury spokesmen are busy dampening down Referendum expectations. And it is time for me to come clean, and make a forecast.

There will be no Euro Referendum at all. Ever. That’s what I think. The arrival of the Euro is after all no big deal, it makes no decisive economic or
  political difference. Other factors are far more important, both politically and economically. There are no knock-out punches to be landed by either side. Properly understood, it is a non-issue.

That is why it would be so dangerous for the Government to trigger a referendum on the subject. Without an important question to answer, a referendum would create an awesome political vacuum. It would be open season for all the xenophobia, racism, narrow nationalism, even fascism, of which Britain is capable. Just as it would be irresponsible of Government to hold a referendum on the death penalty, so it would be irresponsible to unleash the dogs of nationalism and xenophobia. And in such a vicious political cauldron, the Government could clearly lose. A referendum would also offer to the Conservatives their very best chance of revival as a Party.

That is why there will be no referendum. Gordon Brown will give his assessment, that there is in 2002 no satisfactory “convergence” of the UK and Continental economies. That will discharge the subtle commitment which he has given: there has never been any promise of a referendum, merely a promise to assess the need for a referendum. And once that assessment has been made, the promise will have been discharged. The Euro will roll on to become one issue, among others, in the 2005 General Election.

But I could be wrong.

What do you think? Drop me a line.

• End

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