Watch out for the e-word in the classroom

22nd June 2001 at 01:00
THE result of the election surely assures Tony Blair his place in history: for the second term running he has succeeded in leaping over the heads of any Liberal Democrats around, and landed squarely in the middle of traditional Tory terrain, leaving that party scrabbling around at the edges. Rupert Murdoch's Times and other national newspapers have expressed the view that new Labour has turned out to be the vehicle by which Thatcherism can be consolidated and extended.

On Europe, Labour said as little as possible during the campaign, even though the UK's future relations with the EU represent the most far-reaching issues facing this country.

It is the case that the big E-question broke the back of the Tory Party in the nineties. The failure of William Hague's Save the Pound campaign to grip the public imagination underlines something else: current widespread public euro disinterest. Health, education and the management of the economy are, after all, properly the stuff of elections.

The mere thought of the single currency may elicit a yawn among folk who have just suffered almost terminal boredom from the least inspiring election in living memory. Sufficient unto the day is the referendum thereof.

However, interest is likely to quicken in the next half dozen months, not least for secondary teachers who probably will not wish to remain in the "don't know" camp where so many of us languish.

Come January we shall observe the amazing spectacle of 320 million people in the 12 countries of Euroland struggling with the greatest logistical challenge in the history of money - the launch of the euro - and the fading into history soon after of a dozen nationl currencies.

A recent poll found that more than 60 per cent of Brits do not wish to lose the pound - and this in a country which has just re-elected a Prime Minister apparently determined to achieve his "historic leap". Perhaps the caution-mongers (in many political parties) are right.

What is so attractive about a Europe where not only growth is decelerating, but inflation is more than double the UK rate, and unemployment is far higher than in Scotland? It may not be enough for Blair to assume that we shall all be converted in the course of next year's European holiday or school trip.

Europe is suffering from a serious outflow of capital. The continuing weakness of the euro has already provoked European Central Bank intervention and may do so again. Despite a huge effective devaluation, growth forecasts for the euro zone are being pared fast, particularly in Germany.

Is there an alternative to that envisaged by the closed minds scenario already planning our steamroll into Europe? (For which, incidentally, advertising space has already been reserved.) Could Britain perhaps become the Singapore of the Atlantic? Is there room here for a new coalition of interests?

Two factors would fire up this debate: first, a lacklustre referendum result; and second, a continued and growing perception of the mindless bureaucracy, corruption and inefficiency which seems constantly to emanate from Europe.

To say nothing of the current weakness of the European Parliament, and the secrecy and lack of democratic accountability of the Council of Ministers and the Commission. Just the stuff for a little staffroom discussion or classroom debate.


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