Opinion - David Walker, the corridors of power ...
Astute Tories have already written off the forthcoming general election in order to prepare for a contest they believe they can win and use as a spring board for winning the election after – and that’s a referendum on UK membership of the euro.
And in Labour backrooms, too, battle lines are being drawn, except some run less between the parties than between numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street.
The fate of sterling is a subject as close to chancellor Gordon Brown’s heart as his own political destiny.
During the past few months economic circumstances have shifted spectacularly.
The euro has started to appreciate against both sterling and the dollar and talk of its collapse has ceased. According to research by PwC, the UK economic cycle has moved into sync with the euro-zone. Trends in Europe – unemployment falling still in France and Germany, growth expectations – suggest economies are converging.
If the American economy goes into recession while France and Germany remain buoyant one of the staples of euroscepticism will disappear.
But the question, as always, is how to translate economic abstractions into political opportunity. Or rather who. Blair, according to acolytes, has gone into election mode, thinking mostly of tactics and winning a second term. How much political capital he is prepared to expend on Europe remains moot.
But Blair is not going to let another five years go by without trying to resolve the question of UK membership.
If he wins big, he will be tempted to go for a quick decision, hitting the Tories while they are down.
If Labour’s margin of victory is smaller the timing question becomes more difficult. It is not just a battle with the eurosceptics in the Tory party and the press. Gordon Brown’s aspiration to the Labour leadership is as keen as it ever was and both he and Blair know Europe could be Brown’s turnkey issue.
– David Walker writes for The Guardian.