Ignorance of the euro is Blair's fault

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The gloves are about to come off in the great euro debate. According to conference papers, Labour's annual gathering this month will see the party endorsing a far more pro-euro stance, laying out the benefits of adopting the single currency and the drawbacks of staying out. Meantime the minister for Europe, Keith Vaz, has drawn the battle lines, attacking a xenophobic press for"pumping up the negative news and playing down the positive".

The gloves are about to come off in the great euro debate. According to conference papers, Labour's annual gathering this month will see the party endorsing a far more pro-euro stance, laying out the benefits of adopting the single currency and the drawbacks of staying out. Meantime the minister for Europe, Keith Vaz, has drawn the battle lines, attacking a xenophobic press for"pumping up the negative news and playing down the positive".

Hang on a minute. If right-wing papers print lies about the euro, much of the blame must rest with a government that has turned reticence about the currency into an art form. Ministers may harp on about the public's ignorance, but whose fault is that? It must lie firstly with the Government, which consistently trundles out junior ministers - Mr Vaz, Stephen Byers or Peter Mandelson - to bat for the euro, while the cabinet big hitters - Blair, Prescott, Brown and Cook - remain silent. It often seems that the Government is keener on highlighting Tory divisions on the euro than in mature debate.

But the euro's supposed champions outside government are also at fault. In particular, the non-party Britain in Europe campaign is a shambles. Following its (much-delayed) launch last year, it has barely registered on the public radar. Well funded, with stellar endorsements and much goodwill, Britain in Europe has been a total flop.

Obviously, with the euro struggling against the dollar, its advocates have faced an uphill task. But that makes it all the more important that they fight the case for jobs, mortgages and stability. Meanwhile, across the North Sea, the population of Denmark is fully engaged in the euro debate: the country is due to hold a referendum on entry within the month. Despite the currency's decline, polls predict a victory, albeit narrow, for Danish entry. The campaign is close, but passionate and informed. None of which applies to the British debate.

If, as widely expected, the general election is held next spring, the referendum on euro entry could follow within months. But if the debate is left at its present level, Tony Blair risks winning the former but losing the latter. He might be wise to alter his priorities, chancing a few seats in what will undoubtedly be a vast election victory, if that is the price of engaging fully in the European argument now.

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