Election '97 : True-blue press makes capital out of currency

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The Independent Online
It was almost possible to hear the cheering in the offices of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail as Europe moved to centre stage in the election campaign this week.

Both newspapers have led a right-wing campaign to create an alternative platform for the Conservatives based on rejection of the single currency before the election.

So when the Prime Minister scrapped his campaign strategy on Wednesday to take on the single currency issue, the Daily Mail was quick to claim the credit. Its front page yesterday boasted that the Euro-scepticism among Tory candidates addressed by John Major in his party election broadcast was "triggered by the Daily Mail's Battle for Britain campaign".

Its front-page headline "Major's pledge" and accompanying story displayed the newspaper's belief that the issue is a winner for the party, even though the "wait-and-see" policy remained in place. The paper's leader column was convinced that the clear blue water between Tories and Labour it had been looking for had arrived. "You do now have a choice," it thundered.

While the Daily Mail ignored the question of whether the EU issue harms the Tories by exposing divisions, the Daily Telegraph acknowledged on its front page that Mr Major was taking a gamble, but tried to take on the argument.

It maintained that in fact the Tories are not divided because most of them are united in opposition to a single currency. It sees the parting of candidates from the leadership line as an advantage: "If by May 1, 256 Tory candidates are prepared to declare what they really think about Europe as compared with, say, six from Labour, then that should be counted as 250 points in the Conservatives' favour."

The Express tried to claim that it had prompted the Prime Minister's appeal to the nation: "Major rises to the Express challenge"- but then questioned its value by asking "are we any the wiser?". It also emphasised the damaging nature of the split between leadership and candidates with the headline "Knives out as Major pleads for support".

The Times also applauded Mr Major's stand, but was more lukewarm about whether or not the issue of Europe helped the Tory cause. It noted that Tory policy was now effectively opposition to the single currency regardless of negotiations because "the rebellion has already ensured, in Mr Major's words, that he will go naked into the conference chamber ... he would not be able to join EMU except by relying on opposition votes and splitting his party".