Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 14 June 2002

Last week’s revelation that the campaign against British membership of the euro is planning to keep the Tories out of the public eye and rely instead on the efforts of a bunch of alternative comedians – or rather, an alternative bunch of comedians – is highly significant.

It shows for the first time that the no campaign is extremely nervous. The opinion polls have begun to turn as voters realise that the euro carries no threat to their well-being, the Government is looking increasingly ready to go for the referendum – and the no campaign’s focus groups are telling it that it hasn’t a hope in hell if it is seen, as it is today, as a Tory front organisation.

Whether Vic Reeves and Harry Enfield have the wherewithal to change this public perception is, to say the least, questionable. But this is not just because they lack the gravitas to convince on an issue of such importance or because the big idea behind the recruitment of their comic talents, that the euro is a “joke currency”, is asinine and puerile.

Far more important is the brute fact that the popular perception of the anti-euro campaign as a Tory front is pretty much accurate.

Consider the following:

  • The Tories were the only major party to fight the last general election on an anti-euro platform.
  • Their current leader, Iain Duncan Smith, rose to political prominence as a Eurosceptic rebel against the Major Government in the 1990s and owes his current position to the popularity of his virulent anti-Europeanism in his party.
  • The Tories constitute by far the largest body of organised anti-euro opinion in the country.
  • Tory activists dominate the anti-euro campaign at every level.
  • The no campaign is funded by Tory businessmen.
  • Only the Tories can benefit politically from a no victory in the referendum – and only a no victory in the referendum gives the Tories any hope of subsequent electoral recovery.

It is no accident, as the Marxists used to say, that the man who announced the Tories’ backseat role in the no campaign, its former director, Dominic Cummings, was speaking in his current capacity as director of strategy at Conservative Central Office – a position to which he was appointed by none other than Mr Duncan Smith.

The promised low profile for the Tories is, in short, nothing but a Tory ruse – and those non-Tories who have rallied to the no campaign after being assured that it would not be Tory-dominated, Labour leftists and Greens as well as comedians, have allowed themselves to be conned. They are dupes of the Tories – just as 1930s pacifists were dupes of Hitler and liberal members of Communist front organisations were dupes of Moscow.

OK, I exaggerate, but only a little. I am of course aware that many Labour Left and Green opponents of the single currency are not knee-jerk anti-Europeans, that there are legitimate criticisms of the way the euro operates and that some on the Left who are against the single currency also want to dissociate themselves from the official Tory-led no campaign.

But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The truth is that there is no way that an independent left campaign against the euro will be able to make itself heard in the run-up to the referendum: it simply won’t have the resources or indeed the political clout to make an impact. (Unlike in 1975, no one of Cabinet rank is likely to be in the no camp.)

The referendum campaign will be a contest not between advocates of capitalist Europe and proponents of a socialist Britain standing alone, but between those who want to be part of a capitalist (but at least caring) Europe and those who want to let the market rip in an authoritarian offshore tax-haven. Anti-euro leftists will have the choice of watching from the margins shouting irrelevant slogans or throwing their lot in with the Tories.

Either way, they will play the role of useful idiots in a reactionary populist xenophobic crusade – and either way they cannot win. If Britain votes no, the victors will not be those who dream of a proper left-wing Government in Britain or those who believe that the European Central Bank should do more about unemployment: they will be Mr Duncan Smith and his followers, whose currently hopeless predicament will be transformed. And if Britain votes yes, well, the anti-euro left will be deservedly and universally lampooned as an irrelevance – and shunned as Tory stooges by the rest of the left.

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