Many years ago, a colleague of mine, the late Philip Hardman, was trying to negotiate improvements to the impending development land tax legislation. One evening, exhausted by his latest discussions, he told me that it was nearly all a waste of time, because so few people could or would grasp the issues.
He could only get anybody’s attention when he mentioned the 80% rate – that they understood: the government keeps 80 parts in 100 and the punter only 20. Disgraceful. But the rest of his arguments were met with glassy-eyed stares.
So it is with Britain entering, or not entering, the European single currency. For all the effort put into the national changeover plan, all the weighty articles, letters to editors and learned debate, what will be understood and what will probably influence any referendum most, is the fact that we would be losing the pound sterling. ‘Blair prepares to scrap the #’, was the Sun‘s headline after the prime minister announced his preparation plans.
If Peter Mandelson still had his former power, he would already have been in action. He knows that language is all. The best strategy would be to retain the word ‘pound’, albeit that in value it would equal a euro.
Failing that, the word ‘euro’ needs to be brought into everyday parlance.
Emails would have been sent to back-benchers directing them to pepper speeches with phrases such as: ‘take care of the cents, and the euros will take care of themselves’; ‘cent wise and euro foolish’; ‘the euro in your pocket’.
A word in powerful ears would result in renamed television programmes: ‘Who Wants To Be A Euro Millionaire?’; ‘The National Euro Lottery’; ‘Pets win Euros’. The campaign would be relentless, perhaps even over-enthusiastic, resulting in misguided tinkering such as ‘to have one’s euro of flesh’.
But the battle for the euro might be won by making it familiar, and uncoupling our allegiance to the pound. As Philip Hardman told me: ‘You’ve got to focus on the simple things.’
Ann Baldwin FCA is a management trainer and speaker
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