I still haven’t finished Alastair Campbell’s diaries. However, one bit that shocked me was the entry for Friday, 17 October 1997:
EMU was our main problem of the day. Charlie Whelan [Brown’s press spokesman] and Ed Balls [adviser to Brown] wanted Gordon Brown to do an interview ‘clarifying’ the situation, saying policy was unchanged but making it clear we were clearly not going to be in the first wave [i.e., joining the eurozone in 1999], and therefore it was unlikely for this Parliament [1997-2001]. Jonathan Powell [Blair’s chief of staff] called and said Tony Blair was not sure of the need. […] I agreed with Charlie Whelan it was probably the right thing to do. […] The Treasury drafted the words and I made a couple of changes to tone down the pro-Europeanism in a couple of places. I spoke to Webster [political editor of The Times] and agreed that the intro was that he was effectively ruling it out for this Parliament. […] God knows how we had got to this, or to the headline at the end of the day, Blair rules out single currency for this Parliament, because while Charlie Whelan and I both believed we were doing what Tony Blair and Gordon Brown wanted us to, […] it seemed they had not really gone over the line in any detail. Gordon Brown was pushing where he wanted to go, I’m afraid I was keen to push my instinctive anti-EMU feelings. […]
It was all quiet until after 10, when Tony Blair called after he had seen the news and said what the hell is going on? ‘We never agreed this,’ he said. […] Blair asked if we had ruled out EMU this Parliament. Yes, said Charlie Whelan. ‘Is that not what you want?’ No, it is not, said Blair. ‘Oh,’ said Charlie. Brown was also now on the rampage, saying this had all gone too far, as if suddenly the headline he had been asking for was not what he had asked for at all.
I don’t understand why Blair didn’t go out and clarify his own position afterwards, even if it might have meant that Brown and/or Campbell would have been undermined.
Although Blair was an instinctive pro-European, he seems to have been happy to have his policies torn to shreds by others.
Tony Blair was in an unbelievably strong position from 1997 to 2001, and he could have done anything he wanted, but he seems to have been too afraid of losing face in public to actually stick to his policies, even when he had clearly been misled by people in his team.
Given the pound’s collapse against the euro in the past year, I’m surely not alone in wishing things had happened differently back in October 1997!