With the prospect of a referendum on the single currency now looming large I am anxious to persuade my colleagues of the importance of avoiding the ‘NO’ campaign becoming too closely associated with individual politicians, or, for that matter, with the hugely discredited Conservative Party, for fear that it is seen to be partisan rather than an organisation which transcends everyday party politics. At a breakfast meeting of the European Research Group (ERG) I try hard to persuade the assembled company, particularly Lord Pearson of Rannoch, that to win a referendum it is essential that the campaign is strongly identified with the issue rather than with the personalities of those leading the charge. Our message has to be sold like a commercial product, soap powder or whatever, where prominence is invariably given to the brand name rather than to the name of the manufacturer or its directors. Malcolm Pearson is clearly not convinced and when he goes on to say that Yorkshire millionaire, Paul Sykes, recently resigned from the Conservative Party due to the Shadow Cabinet’s pusillanimity on the single currency issue, is in town, I ask him if he would involve me in his meeting with him. Not convinced that Malcolm will do this I put my secretary, Vicki, on to tracking Paul Sykes down, the upshot of which is a ‘phone call from him the following morning and an appointment to meet him at lunch time.
My advice to Paul Sykes, for which he expresses himself grateful, is firstly that the ‘NO’ campaign has to be non-attributable and must avoid giving prominence to individual politicians which would be counter-productive. Secondly, the campaign needs to be essentially populist, in contrast to the corporatist ‘YES’ campaign. Thirdly, no time or effort should be wasted in trying to build up a mass membership which would require a sizeable administrative organisation. Finally, there is a need to establish a ‘mission control’ capable of representing and co-ordinating the campaign as well as being able to issue instant rebuttals as and when necessary.
As well as directing my fire at the ERG I also try to influence Bill Cash’s Amsterdam Group (formerly the IGC Group) by telling them that there is only one game in town and that is a ‘NO’ campaign against the single currency and how important it is that the campaign be kept anonymous – Bill Cash being in most peoples’ eyes the most likely politician to hijack the campaign for his own glorification! I also urge the group to use whatever opportunities arise to persuade Wm. Hague to stop qualifying his opposition to the single currency by relating it to a time scale. As a matter of principle one is either for it or against it - putting time limits on his opposition is simply making his stance look barely credible.
Meanwhile the Norwegian Ambassador who, unlike the majority of his fellow countrymen is an unreconstructed Europhile of the first order, tells me and the other officers of the Anglo Norwegian All Party Parliamentary Group that Britain’s failure to join the single currency is an act of cowardice! For sheer silliness this remark rivals that of Adair Turner, who, in his capacity as Director General of the CBI, responds to my question about the effect of fixed exchange rates upon unemployment levels by saying that the problem with the Gold Standard was that, as with the ERM, ‘we went in at the wrong rate’. Whereas it is a matter of opinion as to what the correct entry rate should be, history demonstrates that the result of fixed exchange rates is almost invariably an increase in unemployment. On entry into the ERM in October 1990 unemployment in the UK stood at 1.67 millions but by the time of our unceremonious exit in September 1992 it had risen to 2.85 millions, just as between 1923 and September 1931 the fixed exchange rate imposed by our adherence to the Gold Standard had driven unemployment up from 1.25 millions to 2.9 millions. This is an argument that I shall use again and again whenever the subject of the single currency arises and whenever I hear people make the wholly unsubstantiated assertion that joining the single currency will ‘bring down interest rates, lower inflation and reduce the level of unemployment’. This is what the dreamers said before the UK joined the ill-fated ERM, the forerunner of the single currency, and five years later they are still saying it, as though the leap in unemployment, the rash of bankruptcies and the tidal wave of repossessions between 1990 and 1992 had never happened.
from "Cracking the Whip" the fast-paced political memoirs from Christopher Gill, MP for Ludlow and Maastricht Rebel
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