Put simply, they represent the first round of what will, effectively, be a three-stage referendum on joining the euro (the second stages being the next general election and then the referendum proper). We now have a chance to move towards the "bold aim" Mr Blair canvassed in Aachen last week, that "Britain resolves once and for all its ambivalence towards Europe".
This is novel: European issues have rarely figured in European elections. In the 1989 campaign, the Conservatives famously asked on their posters: "Do you want to live on a diet of Brussels?" next to a pile of boiled sprouts. This unintentionally hilarious attempt to put Europe on the agenda flopped, and the voters simply protested against Mrs Thatcher, poll tax and all. In 1994, there was an even bigger protest against the even less popular administration of John Major, sleaze and all. This time will be different. There is no sign of a protest vote against New Labour. The European issue promises to be more salient and more clear-cut. The intervention of the breakaway Pro Euro Conservatives will see to that, as will the promised clarity with which Mr Hague (assisted by some odd election broadcasts) will reject the euro. The Liberal Democrats are in favour of an early referendum on joining the euro. So far, so clear.
It would be refreshing if Mr Blair were to make a vote for New Labour unequivocally a vote for the euro. He won't, of course. New Labour's manifesto is likely to follow up on Mr Blair's stated ambitions to reform the EU, to improve its accountability, to wean it away from its habitual corporatist instincts. But, on the euro, despite the powerful rhetoric, he is still sitting on Mr Major's fence, still waiting to see whether it works, still worried about being taunted as "the most dangerous man in Britain" in the Europhobic press. Of joining the single currency, he stresses that "the intention is real". But it remains an intention, hedged about, all the same. A vote for New Labour can, just about, be interpreted as a conditional one for the euro. But if Mr Blair wants convincingly to win the argument for the euro and resolve our national ambivalence to Europe, he could start by resolving his own.Reuse content