Labour's manifesto for the next election could have a big hole in it

'Europe is the rock on which the Tories will be smashed, and which can secure Labour in office'
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The Independent Online

Labour's manifesto for the next election should contain an open and explicit pledge to take Britain into the euro. Without it the party runs the risk of a "polo mint" manifesto - pleasant enough on the outside but with a hole in the middle. That would not prevent Labour from winning. But it would build up unnecessary problems after the election.

Labour's manifesto for the next election should contain an open and explicit pledge to take Britain into the euro. Without it the party runs the risk of a "polo mint" manifesto - pleasant enough on the outside but with a hole in the middle. That would not prevent Labour from winning. But it would build up unnecessary problems after the election.

To understand this dynamic, it is simply necessary to note how this summer's Comprehensive Spending Review has given a new coherence, and self-confidence, to the Government - evident in everything from opinion polls to the morale of party supporters. If the key principles involved in the spending review are combined with euro membership, it should be possible to create a manifesto that will secure not only a second term but lay the basis for a third as well.

If such predictions of the possibility of a decade and a half of Labour in power, the longest period in its history, appear to open the door to hubris, they shouldn't. The Conservative Party is now so out of touch with the country's needs that it may well be out of power for a generation.

But, essentially, it is the European issue, directly or indirectly, that is the rock on which the Tories will be smashed, and which can secure Labour in office for the foreseeable future. Conventional wisdom holds that the opinion polls show the opposite, with support for the euro at an all-time low, and with William Hague clearly believing that Europe is his secret weapon. But it is important to separate myth from reality - more precisely to separate the core of the political situation from flim-flam and appearances.

Consider first Mr Hague's bluff. The entire Conservative Party is to be mobilised at the next election in a jihad to defeat euro membership and "save the pound". This is based not only on the prejudices of the Tory leaders but on those opinion polls that show an impressive majority against the euro. For the last three years large sections of the Government have lain paralysed on this issue, refusing to campaign for a policy that they believe is right, due to fear that Mr Hague will unleash his alleged political nuclear weapon against Labour in the election.

In reality Mr Hague, and sections of the Labour government, are suffering from a delusion if they think that the Tory leader indeed possesses a political atomic bomb. They thus have a peculiarly advanced case of what may be termed the "Kinnock illusion".

This is the idea that if a party leader chooses something which opinion polls show is unpopular, and then campaigns against it, that will generate a significant positive effect - while crucially neglecting to ask the small question of not only how people judge the particular issue but whether they consider the question is central for politics or not.

Thus, for two years in the Eighties, the entire Labour Party was centred on a crusade against the Militant Tendency - which opinion polls showed achieved the rare distinction of being more unpopular than the euro. But the same polls showed that it was regarded as way down on the list of issues facing the country - hence, no matter how frenzied Labour's campaign against Militant might be, it failed to shift the party up the polls. The pollsters say that such issues have a "low salience".

Today, if people are asked the abstract question of whether they support the euro or not, the answer is "no". They also answer "yes" to all the questions, beloved of Hagueism, about sovereignty. However, they not only support, but regard as far more important, all the issues that are linked to euro membership and which the Comprehensive Spending Review responded to popular opinion by addressing - the health service, education, decent transport, social security and protection.

The reason for this apparent paradox is that economic and social policies do not come in neatly separate packages, which can be tasted, and accepted or rejected, individually. Behind the debate on euro membership are two entirely different visions for the UK's future.

The Tories want a low-tax, deregulated economy with, therefore, the same squalid level of provision in the health and public services that the electorate has been rebelling against. To secure this, Hague must, quite rightly from his viewpoint, oppose the "European model" root and branch - it embodies values and a way of organising society that he detests.

Conversely, the values embodied in the spending review - adequate health spending, education, public transport - are recognisably the "European model" as practised in its varied form from Germany through France to Sweden. These are the values the electorate has repeatedly shown it supports, and which the spending review has given the Government new confidence and coherence by endorsing.

Membership of the euro will structurally bind these sorts of European values and policies into the centre of British politics. So all the features that lead Mr Hague to detest the euro lead Labour to endorse it - which is why the overwhelming majority of the Cabinet do so.

Beyond doubt, the electorate does not yet understand the real nature of the two choices. But, as the French say, a politician is someone who merely follows public opinion, whereas a statesman or stateswoman is someone who forms it.

If the electorate is presented with the true choice - that it can either have the decent level of social and economic protection in the model embodied in the euro, or the run-down state of the National Health Service and social provision of Hague - it will surely chose the former.

The job of Labour's publicity machine is not to engage in trivial "spin" on third-rate issues, a path that brought the party to open disarray this summer, but to explain this economic and political reality.

There is now agreement on many issues regarding the contents of Labour's manifesto. It must centre on the key challenges of public services provision that the spending review has now re-committed the party to. As many commentators have noted on these areas, and that of taxation, which the issue of public provision is inextricably tied to, there is now a real choice between the parties - with an overwhelming majority in the country against the Tories.

But to render these policies and choices coherent, Labour must explicitly include euro support in its manifesto. If it doesn't, there is a danger that after the election the party will fight a referendum on the euro, lose it, and the Government will disintegrate into incoherence. Include euro membership in the referendum, explain fully how it is linked to the themes developed in the spending review, win, and Labour can be in power for the foreseeable future.

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