Parliament & Politics: The Sketch - Tories ruffled after onslaught by man armed with EMU attacked by man armed with EMU Keeping the euro at arm's length may be the answer

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The Independent Online
TREASURY QUESTIONS opened with Nick St Aubyn protesting to the Chancellor about the Prime Minister's scandalous failure to promote the euro.

It isn't that Mr St Aubyn likes the Euro - he simply wants Mr Blair to come out of the closet on the issue so that, from that moment on, he can protest to the Chancellor about the Prime Minister's shameful refusal to denounce it. In answering him Mr Brown chose to use the acronym EMU, partly because this was the term used in the original question, but also, I suspect, because EMU sounds so much more cuddly and winning. There's something synthetic and compromised about "euro", a word redolent of stale air in committee rooms, but EMU is alive with promotional possibilities.

Indeed, should Mr Blair decide to accept those insistent Tory invitations to come out and fight, one can see the misty outline of a hearts and minds campaign already beginning to form. Sadly Rod Hull is no longer available to do his stuff, but the Labour benches are not short of people who would give their right arm for the party, and it would be easy to turn his shaggy glove puppet into a mascot for monetary union. EMU could make his debut by roughhousing with Signor Prodi in the middle of a question and answer session about interest rate convergence, and then Mr Blair could go on This Morning to explain what an unthreatening chap he is when you approach him in the right way (EMU might lay his head affectionately on the Prime Ministerial shoulder at this point).

Even the Iron Chancellor might allow his hair to be ruffled by that rubbery beak - after all, he once took part in a television programme called Ulrika in Euroland, duringwhich Ulrika Johnson speculated breathily about the attractions of his ministerial box. And while the nation's children take this cheeky flightless bird to their hearts (free Beanie Baby EMU for every school starter), the Tories would have to sit there like EMU-meanies, sourly refusing to join in the fun.

Until that time though, division remains the favoured line of attack for the Labour front bench - even more so since the reshuffle placed a known Europhile on the shadow front bench, in the form of Quentin Davies. Up gets Mr Maude to give his unconvincing imitation of a man spoiling for a fight and then, before he's even finished sitting down, he has to listen to Mr Brown quoting excoriations of the current Conservative position, penned by Mr Davies himself. Once he has his teeth into a bone Mr Brown rarely lets go, and this is promisingly juicy one, packed with morsels of Tory discomfit. As the Labour front bench cheerfully exploited the ideological differences between Mr Davies and Oliver Letwin, a convinced Eurosceptic, the victims themselves sat stiffly upright, at a loss for what to wear on their faces. There was a real bounce to the Opposition on this matter last week, but the slow leak in Tory morale seems to be letting them sag again.

Indignation is still at full pressure, naturally, whether it's Sir Peter Tapsell's dismay at the selling off of gold reserves, or the continuing umbrage at the hike in the duty on diesel. Sir Nicholas Winterton was one of many who raised the imminent demise of the nation's independent hauliers with Patricia Hewitt. "I seem to remember that he supported the last government," she said, embarking on the reflexive Labour response to this issue, which is to remind Conservatives that they introduced the fuel tax escalator in the first place. "I did not!" Mr Winterton shouted back. Realising that her cliche had collapsed beneath her Ms Hewitt saddled up a slur instead, emphasising the asphyxiating properties of old style diesel. Translation? "The Tories want to poison your children".