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Comment: Reluctant to lead on euro.

Digby Jones, the director general of the CBI, is a successful, charismatic and intelligent man who has the additional benefit of being a Midlander.

However, his request that this Government takes a lead on the euro is perhaps the most fantastical wish since the same ten-year-old Digby asked Santa Claus for a Rolls-Royce.

There is no doubt Mr Jones is right that it is the responsibility of politicians, not businessmen, to direct the charge, and he is equally correct to say the indecision is damaging to Britain's business, but there is little likelihood of Tony Blair coming clean about his true feelings on the single currency.

A cynic would say "why should he?"

The opinion polls show a public deeply suspicious of the great continental experiment with the latest, a survey for BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, suggesting 69 per cent of Britons are opposed to joining.

Not even the president of the European Central Bank, Wim Duisenberg, believes this country is ready to sign up to monetary union.

What political gain would Mr Blair, a politician with a fear of unpopularity, reap from coming clean about his true feelings? Almost nothing except the support of the Liberal Democrats.

The Prime Minister has made a number of mistakes in his first 1,000 days but he has shown no tendency to commit political suicide.

But this does not lessen the charges of Digby Jones.

Running scared of the Murdoch press and refusing to confront public opinion would be acceptable if there were not so much at stake.

The Government has attempted to spin Mr Duisenberg's comments as justification for its dithering but this permanent state of indecision is not only increasingly damaging to British business but a cause of mounting Treasury expense.

No company in Britain is satisfied with this monetary and political limbo.

Long-term planning is rendered impossible without clear direction from the Government as to whether it is committed to scrapping the pound or not.

At the same time millions of pounds have been spent preparing the offices of state for joining the single currency.

If Britain's entry was imminent then such expenditure might have been acceptable. A wait and see policy also makes more sense if the wait is not too long.

But the evidence, from the polls and Mr Duisenberg strongly suggests it would be unwise for Britain to commit itself in the short or long term.

Would it not be better if the Government saved us money, the business community heartache and the Europhobes a heart attack by coming clean as to its intentions.

Unless it is willing to make a decision "wait and see" would be more sensibly replaced by "postpone and see".

Perhaps it is typical of this administration that it wants to have its cake and eat it. It wants to escape the wrath of the majority while spending public money to cover its losses if, on the slimmest of chances, everything turns out all right.

Regardless of your opinion on the euro and its benefits for the British economy, the least you deserve is for your elected representatives to show some leadership.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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