Toward a More Continental Britain?

Much of Britain's general election campaign was about the sort of country Britain wants to be. Prime Minister Tony Blair held out the promise of a more Continental Britain, with more public spending on schools, health care, and public transport. William Hague's Conservatives purveyed a more American flavor, focusing on tax cuts. The two were also split on their approach toward Europe. Blair wants to shift Britain closer to the Continent, while Hague warned against control by Brussels bureaucrats and the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

At press time, Blair and his Labour Party appeared headed for a solid victory on June 7--indicating that Britons are opting for the Continental model. But it's not clear how far they're willing to go. First, improving public services could well require big tax increases after a few years. Second, British voters are less enthusiastic than Blair himself is about merging the pound into Europe's single currency.

To assuage a skeptical public, Blair has promised not to join the euro without a referendum, assuming that London first determines that euro entry is unambiguously in Britain's economic interests. That's somewhat disingenuous. There will never be unambiguous proof that joining the euro would benefit Britain. To get Britain in, Blair will have to fight to convince Britons that being in the euro zone will be good for them. If Blair were to lose a euro referendum, he might well be finished as Prime Minister. Whether he will take such a risk may well be the big story of his second term.

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