OPINION: The euro PR war is full of conscientious objectors

On Any Questions last week the warm-up question was about the euro.

The participants were asked to name all five of Gordon Brown's economic tests. This proved difficult and even I have to admit that I couldn't have answered the question.

As far as I can recall Ed Balls made the tests up in a taxi in Washington before a meeting with the US Treasury, which was interested to know how Brown would make the decision. By making the argument an economic one the Chancellor has cleverly made the decision his, and at the same time taken some of the politics out of the argument. The fact is, of course, that the decision is essentially political, but to admit that would open up the argument too much and cause a split within Labour's ranks.

If asked to name the five tests one could just waffle a little and then talk about the missing tests - such as the political one - but the real test for Tony Blair is the PR test. Can a referendum on the euro be won?

The answer to that is definitely 'no', and even the strategy of waiting until everyone believes entry is inevitable doesn't seem to be working for Blair. Make no mistake about it, the Prime Minister would love to take Britain into the euro but has been outflanked by his Chancellor.

The reason for this is that Blair has lost the PR battle with the British public.

Foolishly, Blair has enlisted the support of his twice-disgraced pal Peter Mandelson, who has a reputation for being a brilliant PR guru, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Mandelson was responsible for getting one of his mates appointed to lead the Britain in Europe campaign, wrongly believing that all that's needed is a slick PR push and the public would realise what a wonderful thing the euro was.

The reality is that the PR campaign will only work once a decision to go in has been taken. So long as the British economy is out-performing even that of Germany no one will be able to see the benefits of the euro.

Just not having to change your money when you go on holiday to Spain isn't enough. It is now clear that entry to the euro is a long way off, and not just because the British public is sceptical about the benefits of joining.

It had been widely assumed that business would come round more and more to supporting British euro membership, but this has not been the case.

I spoke to CBI director general Digby Jones at the weekend and asked him about his views on euro membership. As usual he was reluctant to state publicly his well known private opposition, simply stating that the CBI would now take a formal position once a decision on a referendum had been taken.

This more neutral stance is significant because many people would be persuaded of the arguments if business leaders said that the euro would be a good thing for industry. The most recent poll of business leaders in The Financial Times shows that far from there being a majority in favour there is probably a majority against.

Is it any wonder then that The Independent's Andy Grice, one of the best informed political editors in Westminster, wrote this week that Blair has ruled out a referendum in 2003 even if Brown announces that the economic tests have been passed - which of course he won't. Mandelson, meanwhile, has written in The Times that there should be different 'tests' from those set by Brown. Even he now knows that the PR battle has been lost.

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