The Sketch: We'll join when the time is right, said the limp lettuce. Or was it the gutted halibut?

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The Independent Online

During his address to the Press Gallery's 200th anniversary dinner on Wednesday, the Prime Minister referred to me as one of the Gallery's two most vicious sketch writers. I'd likened him somehow to a gutted fish. I'm not going to let it go to my head, but he certainly knows how to get round a fellow. If only there was room for me in his Big Tent; but alas, it would need an extension the size of Texas sewn on the back.

It was the prime ministerial monthly yesterday. Apparently they all agree now, the mixed vegetables that make up the Cabinet, that it is in Britain's long-term interests to join the euro. That's what he told us. If the Cabinet is of one mind on this, then some really disgusting medical experiment must have taken place behind those closed doors.

But, the Prime Minister says in a cautionary way, we must join when the time is right. This means "when we can win a referendum on this issue without splitting the Government". For all the millions of words the Treasury has put out on the subject recently, politics dominates the economics.

Why are we waiting otherwise? What is going to change in the next year or two? The correspondent from Die Welt told Mr Blair that the only way he would turn public opinion was by persuading the public we'd suffer more by staying out than by going in. "But," he said with great thoroughness, "the data are all in the opposite direction. There's no point in joining a club of slow growth and slow labour market reform. It is impossible to win this argument."

The Prime Minister said: "It's got to be on the basis of the long term, or you get into swapping examples of the exchange rate at this or that level, or growth in this quarter being higher or lower." But if all that doesn't matter, then why not call the referendum? If we're waiting for real economic convergence, we'll have to wait until our pension system is bankrupt, our home ownership levels have plummeted, and we are trussed up in Euro-tape like an S&M bondage fiesta. Is that possible, in two short years? Under this Chancellor it's a racing certainty.

A questioner asked why the majority of people think that we will inevitably join the euro eventually. The reason is that we all assume the Government will keep polling until it gets the answer it wants. Mr Blair was reluctant to put it like that, so he said: "Because people can see the euro is not going away."

I've seen limp lettuce less limp than that. But limper still was he on weapons of mass destruction. CBS asked him where the pesky weapons were. "I repeat the answer I gave last month," he said. He added that they were getting a lot of information from Iraqi scientists, that it was making him very confident WMD existed, that he was waiting to present the information in an orderly way, and that they were "not a huge priority right now".

He didn't look like a gutted fish, but he sounded exactly like one. Since you ask, halibut.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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