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Gary Younge
It's about democracy

There will, sadly, be more days like these. The Tories' attempt to turn the election into a referendum on the euro has failed miserably. The overwhelming majority, roughly two-thirds, are against the euro, but it is a priority for only a small minority and most of them are going to vote Tory anyway.

When the election is over, all that will change. The euro will take centre stage. Rightwing Conservatives must not be allowed to write the script. The trouble is not that they oppose the euro - joining a single currency will undermine our democracy and could devastate our economy - but that they are both morally unfit and politically unable to lead any effective opposition to it.

Whether they are wrapping the pound in a union flag or comparing Gerhard Schröder's plans for the European Union to Hitler's Mein Kampf, they are rapidly marginalising a cause which has broad, popular appeal. Moreover, a party which allowed America to use its country as an offshore nuclear launch pad and US aircraft to fly through its air space to bomb Libya, is not best placed to argue the case for sovereignty.

In short, opposition to the euro is too important an issue to leave to petty-minded patriots, nationalists and assorted bigots who have either failed to get over the last war or are keen to start another one. Allowing them to spearhead a No campaign in any referendum would have ramifications way beyond our currency.

The case against the euro is sound. It has nothing to do with patriotism, the pound or isolationism and everything to do with democracy and solid economics. The less control you have over your currency, the less say you have in how you run the economy which, in turn, severely limits the scope to make political decisions. Sign up to economic and monetary union and not only do you relinquish the ability to set interest rates but you dilute your power over public spending, borrowing and taxation too.

Working within the narrow bands set by the European central bank, will produce narrow options for funding health, education, the police and pensioners - all of which rank higher than Europe on British voters' lists of priorities at this election. Ireland has one of Europe's most successful economies. Earlier this year, after it decided to cut taxes and increase spending, it received a reprimand from the central bank.

So if you think this election is boring, wait until we have one in the eurozone. The disillusionment and cynicism that prevails at the moment will be compounded. Labour's first act in government, to hand interest-rate decisions to an independent Bank of England, was not in their manifesto. And Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England, the body that now decides most people's largest single expense - their mortgage -never appeared on a ballot.

But if the City of London feels politically remote to most people, then Frankfurt, the home of the European central bank, is even more so. The bank sets its own inflation target - Gordon Brown sets the Bank of England's - and publishes neither the minutes nor the voting record of its rate-setting meetings. Its president, Wim Duisenberg, appears at hearings before the European parliament, but it has absolutely no power over him.

If the prospect of the euro was accompanied by the democratisation of the European parliament and the widening of its powers to include authority over the central bank, the political case for it might be stronger. But it isn't, and the economic case would still be weak. One of the reasons the euro has needed so much intensive care in its infancy is that the eurozone is such an uneven economic landscape. The central bank cannot act in the interests of its entire membership, whose needs differ widely, and so ends up acting in the interests of no one in particular and thereby shedding credibility.

Take Spain. Its unemployment rate is four times higher than Austria's, its inflation rate is more than twice as high as France's and its growth is almost a third that of Ireland's. Yet, it shares the same interest rate and can do nothing to influence changing it. True, the same argument could be made for Britain, where the south-east is overheating while the north-east struggles. The difference is that nobody is asking us to join Britain. We are already in it.

The euro is a brazen blueprint for globalisation; a project run by bankers for bankers. The left, which has until now been far too reluctant to join the fray, is going to have to make these arguments because the right cannot and joining forces with hardline nationalists on this issue is not an option. The mantra of political expediency that "in times of crisis the enemy of my enemy is my friend" has its limits depending on the nature of the crisis and the enemy. If Norman Tebbit wants to march behind an anti-globalisation banner, then that is his contradiction. Once the left starts wrapping itself in the union flag it will be ours.

So it is time to wrest control from the right. We should be talking about democracy and accountability; instead we are playing patriot games, wallowing in the tropes of blood, honour, Queen and country.

They argue not on the politics and economics of the 21st century but the mythology of the 20th. "History always has a lot to teach us," Lady Thatcher told the Mail earlier last week. "We have just had a century where two world wars were started from the continent of Europe and peace was restored by the English-speaking peoples." This will come as news to the people of what was once Stalingrad.

Left unchecked, opposition to the euro risks cementing itself as a conduit for xenophobia. This is already happening. William Hague's "foreign land" speech will be remembered for its racist overtones. But the speech was primarily about Europe. Elsewhere on the continent, parties of the far-right have become the magnet for anti-euro sentiment. The greatest beneficiary of the Danish vote to stay out of the euro last year was the far-right anti- immigrant People's party. To the sound of champagne corks popping on referendum night its leader, Pia Kjaersgaard, said: "The rest of Europe should look at Denmark and see what we feel."

If ever there was a invitation for the anti-euro left to join the fray, that is it.

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