FEAR OF FINANCE

Having a single set of notes and coins is unnecessary in strictly economic terms. You do have to have legally a single currency but it could be in different denominations", a senior Bank of England official told a certain pink paper this week. He was promoting a "market-led" solution to the thorny problem of getting the UK into the single European currency through the back door without the Eurosceptics noticing and setting up a hue and cry.

The idea seems to be that under a market-led solution all member currencies would become legal tender in all the member states. That way we could continue to think in pounds and pee, pay in pounds and pee and keep pounds and pee in our pocket, so that we could reassure ourselves that we remain British and all is well with the world.

A brilliant British compromise, I hear you cry. It takes a British central banker to come up with a masterstroke of compromise like that. They are known throughout the world for compromise. And solving problems. After all if there is one thing which infallibly calms the most rabid Eurosceptic it is the words "market-led," pronounced with calm authority.

The market, of course, can do no wrong, and would expect good money inevitably to drive out bad. You know, Gresham's Law, surely you haven't forgotten that? Or was it the other way round - bad money drives out good? It was? Oh well, it was the 17th century. Some things are bound to have changed since then, like magnetic north and feminism.

Perhaps it will bring back the hard ecu, the common currency invented by a shrewd young chap called John Major back in 1989. That was going to co-exist with all the member currencies and chameleon-like would adopt the strength and character of whichever one was most inflation-proof at the time. Instinctively people would be drawn to reject the weaker and less attractive notes and coins and only the strong would survive.

But while the modern market sorts out our collective currencies, can you imagine the chaos it would cause if even half a dozen currencies circulated in parallel? Will parking meters be obliged to welcome those five peseta coins that returning holiday-makers from the Costa Brava used to use to jam up the British meters? Will bus conductors who used to take exquisite pleasure in rejecting Irish pennies be forced to take marks and francs, and take their revenge by giving change in drachmas and escudos?

Those Aussie barmen who, like grey squirrels, seem to be driving the native English species out of their natural habitat will have to add a new dimension to their repartee. "Let's see cobber, blue/guv or madam, that's two (imperial) pints of best, five cheese and onion. That'll be six pound 75. Oh, you've got Luxembourg francs? No problem. That'll be 310.50 francs, or I could take 200 and those Danish krone I see in your other hand. Oh sorry no, that's Swedish kroner you have there. Can't take them, they're not in the Community you know. Hold your horses over there, it's your cultural heritage I'm saving."

It's enough to bring about a demand for the cashless society to be introduced at once.

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