The trouble with Europe is that you have to swallow it whole

MEET TABLOID Tony, scourge of "lunatics and headbangers". Tone can be found down at the Dog and Duck on a Friday night musing: "He's maaad, that William Hague. Looney tunes. Barmy army. And another thing - those Tories. They're maaad as well. One short of a six pack."

When Mr Blair adopts undiluted the demotic vocabulary of his spokesman Alastair Campbell, something is not quite right. It is a sign that the Prime Minister's usual poise and confidence has deserted him; a flight into the deceptive certainties of belligerence. Prime Ministers only pay this much attention to the Leader of the Opposition when they are stuck for anything more substantial to say about their own predicament.

Previously, the Government barely needed to acknowledge the existence of the party opposite. When I watch the rather sad little gaggle clustered around Mr Hague at Prime Minister's Questions, ghostly figures of yesteryear who would so palpably like to be somewhere else - indeed be someone, anyone else rather a Tory front-bencher at the end of the 20th century - I am not struck by the sheer force of their destructive frenzy. Michael Portillo, chief headbanger in absentia, orbits in political outer space; Peter Lilley mutters shyly about the folly of it all; and Michael Howard - well, where is Mr Howard now you come to mention him?

But Mr Hague at least has the policy he wants and on which he is happy to fight the next election. Opposing the single currency is a cause around which to unite his fractious and shaken troops. But in the wake of the Cranborne debacle, he is in danger of repeating Old Labour's mistake and addressing himself purely to the Conservative Party, which knows its mind on Europe, rather than to the public, which is still undecided.

His insistence that Mr Blair is sacrificing British "independence" to the European monolith made the heart sink a bit. Independence from what? No island is an island. We are not independent from Europe: we are part of it. The question is on what terms, with what goals and how we should respond when we believe that the Continent's institutions have taken a wrong turn. A decision not to enter EMU does not surgically remove Britain from Europe. It simply changes the nature of our relations with those in the euro zone. Mr Hague needs to start making a more positive argument about Britain's future outside the single currency.

But Mr Blair has the more pressing Euro problem. He has been forced into a far hastier advance on integration than he would have naturally pursued and is palpably unhappy with the altered state in which his policy finds itself. Until the autumn, Britain was being eased gently into EMU. In the television ads that awful man was striding around his office barking at the staff to "get ready for the euro". The start-up of EMU on 1 January would accustom Britain to the idea of the single currency and could be marketed by such silver-tongued salesmen as Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson as "inevitable". We would be halfway into the euro before the small matter of a referendum was even raised.

Then along came Oskar Lafontaine, as German Finance Minister. Unlike Gerhard Schroder or Tony Blair, who have succeeded in politics because they mastered the art of not committing themselves, Herr Lafontaine believes that politics should be the clash of great armies, and that if he believes in an integrated European state, he should say so and tell us why. This frankness is the last thing the British government expected.

It opens up too many awkward questions about economic management, taxation and opt-outs and how much diversity the New Europe will tolerate. The SPD's own think-tank, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, has cold feet over Herr Lafontaine's costly plans to reduce German unemployment. He is the kind of high-spending Old Labourite Mr Blair usually crosses the road to avoid. He also happens to hold one of the most influential economic posts within the EU.

The next untenable proposition is that Britain can lead in Europe. It cannot. You cannot lead as the third player, behind a powerful Franco- German alliance, around whose requirements the EU was constructed and who can always tip the balance against Britain. The attempt to sell integration to the British on the grounds that we will have a significant amount of control over what happens next stretches credibility. If Britain is not a strong enough voice to save the duty-free concession on a bottle of gin at Heathrow, then it is unlikely to change the philosophy of the new corporatism, nor influence the direction of policy other than in the direction that Bonn and Paris have decided that it should go.

Yet if Britain cannot enjoy the fruits of leadership, the public will rightly ask what the benefits of following are. This turns the beam of attention to the financial terms of Britain's relations with the EU. The pounds 2bn budget rebate is not assured. The EU giveth and the EU taketh away. The rebate was a temporary trade-off achieved by Margaret Thatcher to make her government feel better about about deepening integration, which she aided by being a signatory to the Single European Act.

As one of the main supporters of EU enlargement to the east, Britain can justifiably be asked to cough up to support this development. The only way to sell this to a public which has well-developed doubts about the uses to which the EU puts the funds of its contributors is to call for closer involvement in EU management, which means open acceptance of its widening political dimension.

This means tearing up the notion, reiterated hereto by Mr Blair, that EMU is a purely economic project and that we can judge whether it is in our interest on purely balance-sheet terms. Now he has called on his Cabinet to promote stronger pro-European ties and not simply coast along as idle well-wishers.

If the Prime Minister is serious about this new line, supporters of the EMU will have to defend the whole romantic concept of politically unified Europe and argue that the benefits of this dream outweigh the advantages of electoral control and the kind of democratic legitimacy currently enjoyed by Britain. Some believe this to be worth the candle and are happy to put the case. Many more are unconvinced and were far happier with the more cautious model of limited enthusiasm. They will find themselves called on to support a growing number of measures and ideas about which they have the gravest doubts themselves. That is harder to sustain than one might think.

Many thanks to the hundreds of readers who replied to my request for a source of the poem I mentioned while discussing animal rights last week. In case anyone is still rummaging, it is Ralph Hodgson's `The Bells of Heaven'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week