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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK
This soap opera will run and run

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

The Blair-Brown relationship dominates
So Tony Blair is not prepared to talk about the "soap opera" of his relationship with Gordon Brown.

Viewing big issues like the euro through the "prism of personalities" is trivial, futile and plain wrong, he suggests.

His irritation at these persistent questions is always patently obvious and was never more so than during the stunted-up love-in between the two men laid on for the media's benefit.

But, whether he likes it or not, it is precisely this "Westenders" soap opera that lies, some would say gnaws, at the very heart of the government beast.

Few doubt that it is the inability of the two men to come to agreement on the euro that has left Britain hanging around outside the door to the single currency club deciding whether or not to go inside.

And few doubt that it is Gordon Brown's lingering resentment over Tony Blair's seizing of the leadership all those years ago that lies behind that failure.

Five tests

But, pressed on the most famous meal since the last supper - the Granita dinner where Mr Brown allegedly agreed to stand aside in return for a guarantee of future power - Mr Blair was as dismissive as ever.

We heard what they said, but what did their body language give away?

The issue is about the single currency and on that, he insisted unconvincingly, they are as one.

In fact, the prime minister was, as usual, far more animated and enthusiastic about the whole euro project than the chancellor, who again repeatedly underlined his famous five tests.

Yes, he is happy to mouth pro-euro words but virtually no one believes he expects to come back to the Commons in nine months time and tell them conditions have so dramatically changed we can now sign up to the currency.

Unless, of course, the campaign of persuasion the two men are about to launch radically transforms public opinion in that time.

General election

But we have been here before. When Tony Blair launched Britain in Europe in 1999 it was supposed to be the start of the campaign to win the country around to the euro.

It didn't and interest in it rapidly faded away. It suited the government not to keep the issue top of the agenda, particularly in the run up to a general election.

And here we go again, at almost precisely the same distance from the next election.

We will see whether, this time, the campaign really does engage.

But whatever happens it will not distract from the soap opera.

Never mind when, or if, Britain joins the euro, the really big question which remains unanswered is when, or if, Tony Blair will stand down and hand over the keys to No 10 to Gordon Brown.




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