IAIN WATSON: If politics is the art of
the possible, then a pretty tough task lies ahead for the Europe Minister
Peter Hain. Opinion polls show a consistent majority of the British people
opposed to membership of the Euro. Following on from major speeches by
the Prime Minister, it's now Peter Hain's turn to schmooze for the single
ACTUALITY OF PETER HAIN: The government is in favour of
British membership of the EMU.
WATSON: His schedule involves shuttling
from CBI receptions to student rallies; suggesting that the momentum towards
a referendum is picking up pace.
ACTUALITY OF HAIN: ...been left before in Europe
or whether we want to be part of mainstream Europe.
PETER HAIN MP: We do not want to be left
behind again in another big European development as consistently we have
done in the past and lost out of it and that is part of the argument that
the Euro is a reality from New Year's Day. The Chancellor will be making
his economic assessment before June 6th 2003, so the time scale is getting
shorter for Britain to begin to make its mind up on this issue.
LORD HESELTINE: I think the Prime Minister
knows that he should have a referendum. I think he knows that it is in
British self interest to make a decision on the single currency.
CHARLES KENNEDY MP: The discussions I've had with
him myself suggest to me, although he's not been explicit - this Prime
Minister rarely is in my experience - that he would like to have the issue
settled and settled favourably by the conclusion of this Parliament.
WATSON: Pro-Europeans feel that
Tony Blair should have been leading from the front all along, but Downing
Street insiders tell us that it was always the plan to concentrate on public
services during the first year of Labour's second term and only them move
on to the Euro. So what's the reason for this apparent change of tack.
Well one possible explanation lies in this document which is currently
being pored over by Downing Street. It sketches out a means of reducing
opposition to the single currency amongst the electorate and amongst Labour
voters in particular.
PROFESSOR PAUL WHITELEY: There's only about a third of
the electorate who are Conservative supporters in the broad sense of this,
at the moment. So there's a sense in which you don't really have to win
them around, if you can win round Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters.
HAIN: Labour voters will
be impressed about the jobs and investment arguments as they will be about
the fact that their Prime Minister, who's probably got the biggest stature
of any Prime Minister in living history in Britain, he's saying, or would
be saying, if we hold a referendum, please vote yes; as against Iain Duncan
Smith on the Tory side and all the nutters behind him saying no. I think
the public will take a very clear judgement of what's in their interests
and the country's interest.
WATSON: The document which Downing
Street is examining is a new, unpublished analysis of the British election
study. It suggests Labour voters need two things to convince them to vote
yes in a referendum. Firstly, they need leadership from the government.
Asked: 'when the referendum on British membership in the European monetary
union, the Euro, is held, will you vote to give up the pound and join the
Euro? - amongst Labour voters questioned thirty-two per cent said yes and
fifty-three per cent said no. With twelve per cent not decided and two
per cent said they didn't know.
But asked when the Euro
referendum is held, and the British government recommends entry, the yes
vote went up by seven points, from thirty-two to thirty-nine per cent.
While the no vote fell by nine points from fifty-three to forty-four per
cent. With fifteen per cent undecided and two per cent don't knows.
Secondly, the government
needs to make as little mention of the pound as possible. Support for the
Euro increases even further amongst Labour voters if the question simply
says 'join the Euro'. The yes vote rises by five points from thirty-nine
to forty-four per cent and the no vote decreases by six points, from forty-four
to thirty-eight per cent. There still wouldn't be a majority amongst the
whole electorate but it would give the government a much narrower gap to
No mention of the pound
whatsoever, would you regard that as a fair question?
MICHAEL HOWARD MP: I would not regard that as a
fair question but I very much doubt if we're going to get a fair question
WATSON: No mention of the pound
would be perfectly fair?
HAIN: I'm not going to
speculate about Tory arguments about for and against the referendum, what
is on the ballot paper. Whatever the decision taken about calling the referendum,
about what is on the ballot paper, it should be fair and free and absolutely
clear to people, so there's no ambiguity about it.
WATSON: Now that there's greater
momentum towards a referendum, it's not just the phrasing of the question
that's important; pro-Euro campaigners are also keen to ensure that Gordon
Brown and his officials here at the Treasury come up with the right answers
when they come to assess the five economic tests.
The Chancellor said in
1997 that the purpose of the economic tests was to signify that for the
Euro to be right for Britain "the economic benefit should be clear and
unambiguous". But last week, the Labour Party Chairman Charles Clarke,
surprised some colleagues by saying: "If it was a fifty/fifty call I would
still go for it". And there now appears to be a concerted effort by Number
10's allies to say something similar.
SIMON BUCKBY: I fear that the anti-Europeans
will try to use the tests to demand one hundred per cent satisfaction.
Well among any two economists you get at least three opinions, so there
will always be a balanced assessment here. But it's important that the
tests look at both the costs and benefits of the single currency, the possibility
to improve our prosperity if we join the single currency, but at least
as important to look at the damage to our economy if we chose to go it
alone, in terms of lost trade, lost jobs and lost investment.
WATSON: At the Foreign Office,
the Europe Minister Peter Hain parrots the Chancellor's line that the economic
tests are sacrosanct. But there are others in the corridors of power who
would be happy to dilute how the tests are assessed; much to the annoyance
of the Chancellor's closest ally in the trade union movement.
MORRIS: We'll have to have these
tests met 100% because if we fail to do that we will be bouncing ourselves
into a currency, we'll be bouncing ourselves out of our jobs What confuses
us and we have to ask the question, who speaks on this particular critical
issue for this government. We're getting confused messages. Some days we
are told its a pure economic argument, another day we are told its a purely
political argument and then some days we are told it doesn't matter at
all, well it does matter.
HOWARD: It is not an application
of those tests which will decide whether the government try and take this
country into the single currency, it's whether they think they can win
WATSON: The polling on the single
currency, currently being studied in Downing Street suggests that opposition
to the Euro will decrease if it's seen as a new and successful enterprise.
When forty million of us travel to continental Europe over the next year
and get to touch and feel the new currency for ourselves, perhaps buy a
few drinks with it or even some tacky souvenirs, then pro Euro campaigners
hope that familiarity will breed not contempt, but consent. Add this to
possibly less rigorous assessments of the Chancellor's economic tests and
some say, perhaps hopefully, this points to a referendum in 2003.
LORD HESELTINE: I think it's worth a small
wager that the Prime Minister will be thinking of a referendum in 2003.
There are a number of things that argue for 2003, first of all the familiarity,
it has been introduced in Europe, it appears to be working which I think
it will in Europe, our own people will have shared the experience and increasingly
it's been exposed to the frustrations of not being part of that shared
experience. I think the second thing which should not be discounted, is
that all prime ministers as they serve their time, become preoccupied with
their place in history.
KENNEDY: You don't have to have
the wisdom of Solomon to work out that if its a four year parliament and
this issue needs to be resolved some way out before the end of that parliament,
then frankly if not all roads leading to Rome, I think all indicators point
towards some time in the middle of 2003.
VOICE OVER: January the 1st 2002.
WATSON: This advertisement heralds
the arrival of Euro notes and coins in 12 European Union countries in a
little over three weeks. While this gives the government an incentive for
a pro Euro campaign the official line is not to talk about a referendum
date here in Britain..
HAIN: I don't see any point
in calling a referendum, picking a date out of thin air, 2003 or 4 or 5
or ten or next month, if we're going to lose a referendum, because its
not in Britain's interests to join, so I say to those who are playing games
with dates, and pushing us to run in to the this matter with their - our
eyes closed, that is the best way to lose a referendum, and we're not about
to go down that road.
HOWARD: I think they should stop
playing games. If they want us to give up the pound and join the Euro
Zone they should get on with it and we should have a referendum and the
country can decide.
WATSON: But some of Labour's long-standing
supporters say that for Peter Hain and other prominent ministers even to
talk about a referendum on the Euro is a distraction which takes them away
from more pressing domestic issues
MORRIS: My message to government
is forget about the Euro for the time being, concentrate on getting manufacturing
right, concentrate on ensuring that the upward drift towards additional
unemployment is in fact arrested, concentrate on the national health service
and the public services. When you've done all that, then you can begin
to talk about the Euro. Don't be diverted. The next general election will
not be won on whether we're in or out of the single currency
WATSON: While most of the EU moves
relentlessly towards the introduction of Euro notes and coins, the Prime
Minister's mood music on British membership has got an ecstatic response
from Euro enthusiasts; but there's still a suspicion he might sell them
LORD HESELTINE: Tony Blair must know deep
down that if he runs away from is he will have run away from it for two
reasons, one he can't rule over his own cabinet, two because he has actually
given in to the media who are broadly anti European, and the public opinion
that they've influenced.
KENNEDY: I think he's up for it.
But I do think that voices round about him, not just from within his own
party need to keep reminding him that he's up for it, and to get on with
it please Prime Minister. Get on with it.
WATSON: The momentum towards a
referendum on the single currency looks set to pick up pace in the new
year, but pro-Euro ministers such as Peter Hain have a long way to go to
persuade even Labour supporters to scrap the pound; so if the government
can't bank on winning a referendum in 2003, the Prime Minister could withdraw
from the Euro campaign and invest his time on trying to win an historic