Take advantage of your strong position, Mr Blair

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The Independent Online

Blair 'must grasp nettle on euro or he will fail'

Tony Blair has made his mark on history with his second landslide victory at the polls. Now he has his chance to make his mark in a different way ­ by finally making a persuasive case for Britain to join the euro.

Until now, he has seemed hesitant in his euro-enthusiasm, as if frightened of attack by the sceptics. The result of the election (which was, after all, infamously said by the leader of the routed party to be a virtual referendum on the euro) showed, however, that his fear is misplaced. Labour triumphed, while the Liberal Democrats, the most outspoken of the main parties in their support for the euro, were the only one of the trio to gain new seats. This was not a vote for the euro; it was, however, a clear endorsement of a referendum.

Mr Blair enjoys the clearest mandate that a prime minister could hope for. He must use it; indeed, it is his duty to do so. There will never be a better moment to persuade the British people that for this nation to remain outside the euro zone will benefit nobody, least of all Britain.

It is hopeless to think that we can be treated seriously as a European partner if we continue to remain aloof from the single most important common European project.

Public opinion is fickle, not least because (as most people freely admit) there is little understanding of the issues. Judgements are based on prejudice; the arguments have not been properly rehearsed. If Mr Blair and his colleagues were outspoken in their support for the euro ­ in other words, if voters were exposed to simple truths for the first time ­ everything else could quickly change.

Jack Straw, the new Foreign Secretary, has been more cautious on Euro-matters than his predecessor, Robin Cook. That may, however, make Mr Blair's job easier, not more difficult.

Mr Cook, a fine debater and admirable parliamentarian, is not by nature one of life's persuaders. He is more comfortable with contemptuous one-liners than with winning people over to his point of view.Mr Straw has told Mr Blair that he is ready to champion British entry, if asked to do so. His style, as befits a trained barrister, may be better suited to persuading waverers than Mr Cook's scathing wit would ever have been.

Mr Blair's political position will never be as strong as it is today. There can be no better moment to hold a referendum than in the next two years. The Prime Minister must move ­ confidently and fast.