As the dust settles on the party conference season, the euro has
emerged as a battleground for political point-scoring. Last Thursday,
Tony Blair fronted the launch of Britain in Europe - a group originally
set up to push for a referendum on the euro, but which last week
launched a more general campaign to promote Britain’s role in
Meanwhile, Tory leader William Hague has renewed demands for a
renegotiation of the treaties that allow member states to opt out of EU
In addition, Hague is rumoured to be starting a ’Save the Pound’ tour
around the country.
While some senior Tories, such as former prime minister John Major, have
gone on record to dub Hague’s Eurosceptic position an election loser,
others have dealt him a more bitter blow.
Last week, in an extraordinary display of cross-party unity, Blair
shared the Britain in Europe forum with some of the Conservative Party’s
most senior and respected figures.
In what Blair described as a ’patriotic alliance’, former deputy prime
minister Michael Heseltine and erstwhile chancellor Kenneth Clarke
flanked him on the launch platform, alongside new Liberal Democrat
leader Charles Kennedy.
The campaign for Britain in Europe has suffered many false starts and
was originally conceived to win public support for the single
However, in what critics view as a cynical attempt to make its stance
more publicly palatable, for now the campaign will concentrate on
rebuilding confidence in the European project in general.
In addition, to capitalise on the suspicion that Hague is becoming
increasingly xenophobic - something he hotly denies - Britain in Europe
is contesting any proposal to pull out of Europe altogether.
But campaign director Simon Buckby remains defiant in the face of
charges of watering down. ’The campaign has repositioned and I am proud
of that,’ he says. ’It has genuinely delivered a cross-party coalition
not seen in this country for a quarter of a century.’
The group is expanding its media relations and grass-roots campaigning
team and plans to maximise its network of activists. In part, this is to
counteract the grassroots activities of Business for Sterling, the
leading non-political campaign against the single currency which has the
support of the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of
’We’ve established a national network of press offices across Wales and
England and from next year, we will be moving into Scotland,’ says
Business in Sterling campaign manager Alex Hickman. ’We don’t want to be
seen as just a bunch of suits in London, so we’ve been working with
locally-respected business people who share our aims and really
understand the issues.’
Business for Sterling has appointed agencies such as City Press PR in
Manchester to run regional press offices. On top of this, it has used
regional and national advertising to state its position that, for the
foreseeable future, Britain’s best interests are served by staying out
of the euro.
To ensure it is not seen as simply right wing, the campaign team has
been working to promote the profiles of its centre and centre-left
supporters, such as Labour backbencher Frank Field. In addition, it has
been working closely with New Europe, the cross-party political
organisation against the single currency chaired by Lord Owen.
On 23 June, the two organisations held a conference, Advantage Britain,
at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London. Speakers ranged
from Tim Melville-Ross, the director general of the Institute of
Directors, to Moz Greenshields, a member of the national executive
committee of Unison.
New Europe has also been promoting its cause at party conferences. It
launched a book of essays, Everything you always wanted to know about
the euro, but were afraid to ask a Tory, at Labour’s Bournemouth
gathering, and organised a fringe meeting at the Green Party
The battle for Europe will also be fought on the internet. Hickman says:
’We are building up a really good presence on the web, which is
especially important for talking with the business community.’ Visitors
to www.bfors.com can see a video interview with Business for Sterling
chief executive Nick Herbert and a film features supporters including
Belgo chief Luke Johnson.
The irony is that, despite all the posturing, there is a broadish
Nobody is prepared to fully commit to the euro, and even the Tories have
not totally ruled it out in the long term. In principle, all sides are
also in favour of a public consultation. It is just a question of
’The problem is that Gordon Brown wants to win the next election on the
economy and Blair wants to keep his options open,’ says Times political
commentator Peter Riddell. ’My opinion is that in the campaign for the
next election, Blair will have to be more definite about the
When Michael Portillo and Business for Sterling chairman Rodney Leach go
head-to-head with Lord Marshall of British Airways and Charles Kennedy
at next month’s CBI national conference, it will be interesting to see
what they are actually prepared to dispute in a public forum.