INSIDE OUT: The pro-euro forces think Blair is their big weapon But the problem with the prime minister is that, like the dollar at present, his standing is in decline.

INSIDE OUT: The pro-euro forces think Blair is their big weapon But the problem with the prime minister is that, like the dollar at present, his standing is in decline. - Even as we spend our euros in shops and at beaches on the Continent this summer, the

by ANDREW NEIL, publisher of The Business and The Scotsman
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Even as we spend our euros in shops and at beaches on the Continent this summer, the polls show the British still stubbornly opposed to joining the single European currency by a substantial margin of two to one against.

The pro-euro campaigners had hoped that familiarity would breed favour: the more we used it on our hols, the more British hostility to the euro would subside.

It was always a bit of elitist wishful thinking - just because we're comfortable spending dollars at Disney World in Florida doesn't mean we want to swap the pound for the greenback - and so far there is no evidence to support it.

The pro-euro forces, of course, think they still have a formidable weapon up their sleeves: Tony Blair. But the problem with putting too much faith in the prime minister is that, like the dollar this summer, his standing is in decline.

It was not meant to be like this. The pro-euro figures who surround Blair, from his trusty pollster, Philip Gould, to his spin-doctor-in-exile, Peter Mandelson, have had a consistent message for him since the day he entered Number 10.

'Yes, the polls show a clear majority against joining the euro,' they chorus. 'But anti-euro sentiment is wide rather than deep. British opinion can be changed in the campaign - especially when you, prime minister, come out of the closet in full-blooded support for the euro and lead from the front in the referendum.'

This is an analysis the prime minister likes to hear. It appeals to his vanity and his desire for a place in history as the man who finally reconciled the British to a European destiny. Those who have only heard him on TV repeating the mantra about the primacy of the five economic tests in determining whether or not we join have no idea of how viscerally pro-European (and pro-euro) he has become.

'Look!' he once said to me at Downing Street, waving a fistful of press cuttings from Le Monde, Corriere della Sera and Frankfurter Allgemeine praising his pro-euro credentials. 'They want Britain to be at the heart of Europe. And they want me to provide Europe with new leadership and direction.'

Blair is in no doubt that his destiny is in Europe; it is inconvenient that a clear majority of British voters are not similarly convinced. But if he could turn opinion in favour of the euro, thereby clinching the referendum almost single-handed, then his place in history would be guaranteed.

The belief that Blair has the power to pull this off lies in his popularity, authority and respectability. He has won two landslide majorities, which was unprecedented for a Labour leader. He bestrides the political stage, head and shoulders above everybody else, and most folk have regarded him, in his own words, as a 'regular sort of guy'. These are the credentials that give him the power to change people's minds.

Or at least they did. His political reputation is already past its high-water mark and is now ebbing; come the euro-referendum it could be down in the mud. He has been undermined by an obsession with spin: it is to Labour what sleaze was to the Tories.

The attempt to muscle in on the Queen Mother's funeral - then deny it - was widely derided. It was rather an unsavoury little episode that contributed to the growing feeling that you can't really trust what the prime minister says.

His image has been tarnished in other ways. Cosying up to multi-millionaires who have bankrolled Labour, including porn merchants and foreign steel magnates, has hardly enhanced his respectability. The failure to deliver on public services, despite pouring billions of taxpayers' money into health, education and transport, is not calculated to improve his popularity either.

New Labour still rides high against a lacklustre Tory party, but Blair's personal ratings are on the slide - at a time when, intriguingly, the fortunes of his arch-rival in the Government are rising higher and higher: asked in a recent Sunday Times poll whom they trust to 'take the right decisions about the euro', more than three times as many chose Gordon Brown as Blair.

Other polls report that many more voters are more satisfied with the performance of the chancellor than they are with that of the prime minister.

Indeed, dour, leftish Brown now earns more cross-party respect than smiling, centrist Blair. One ICM poll discovered that although only 22% of Tories were satisfied with the prime minister, an amazing 57% were happy with Brown.

This is bad news for the prime minister: he is no longer the killer application in the euro debate he was once thought to be. And the man who could be is distinctly more euro-sceptical.

I don't know for sure if this makes a euro referendum less likely. A premier who has lived by focus groups and opinion polls must find the current anti-euro arithmetic daunting, especially now he has ceased to be Middle Britain's favourite son. But unless you think the economy will go belly-up, long-term political investors should sell Blairs and buy Browns.

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