Politics: The Task Facing Pro-Europeans Is Bleaker Than at Any Other Time in Tony Blair's Two Terms. So Risky Is the Cause That Even David Beckham Won't Endorse It

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Imagine the following: the prime minister invites the leaders of France and Germany to join him in teaching his voters about the merits of the EU constitution. That will happen this month, but the premier in question is Spanish. The festivities in Barcelona on 11 February are not confined to Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his guests Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroder. Johann Cruyff, the Dutch manager of the city's famous football team, will also be on hand. At a Madrid derby match last month, rival fans were given booklets explaining the treaty. On the eve of the 20 February vote, schools will hold a Europe Day. Spain, the first of a dozen countries to hold a referendum, is expecting a high turnout and a convincing victory for the Yes camp. The latest Eurobarometer survey shows, by contrast, that the UK is the most hostile, and that half the population has no idea what it is all about.

So risky is the cause that when it was mooted recently that David Beckham might be approached to endorse the British campaign, the public relations team of our home-grown galactico quickly denied he would do any such thing. The task facing pro-Europeans, concentrated around the Britain in Europe lobby group, is bleaker than at any other time in Tony Blair's two terms. Having seen their hopes of introducing the euro currency dashed, they are now being asked to gather their forces to defend a project far less ambitious.

Ministers have taken some heart from a recent Sunday Telegraph poll, showing that the gap might not be as great as was thought. The conventional wisdom all along was that a small minority of the population was dead set against any EU changes, an even smaller minority was passionately in favour and the vast majority was largely unaware, superficially swayed by anti-European rhetoric but potentially open to persuasion. The trouble is that there has been no persuasion and Blair has made it clear he wants none until after the election.

All the while, the No camp has been amassing funds: [pounds sterling]500,000 at a single fundraising dinner in November, with the hope of ten times that amount by the time formal hostilities begin. The group has placed a series of adverts in cinemas featuring actors and other celebrities, having concluded that Tory MPs should steer well clear of any campaigning. The Yes team is in a quandary. It is struggling to bring celebs on board, but likewise does not want to rely too much on Blair or other ministers to do the selling. …