11 APRIL 1998, Page 26

Drink up, look unhappy

THE Blairs are going to Spain for Easter and I do hope they contrive to look properly shamefaced. No doubt Alastair Campbell has schooled them. In the past they might have had trouble with bullfights, but now it's the currency. Their pounds will now buy them more than 250 pesetas. Two years ago they bought less than 200, five years ago the exchange rate was down below 170 and today's is the best rate for two decades or more. Or, as the Blairs must be careful to call it, the worst rate. Officially the strong pound is a terrible thing. Gordon Brown calls it a problem. Margaret Beckett calls it a mess — but a mess, so she hastens to add, left over from the Tories. Every chairman who needs an excuse for his company's per- formance puts the pound top of his list. The next set of figures might even show that manufacturing industry is in recession. How can the Prime Minister's family gulp down their affordable Fundadors and order the next round when, back home in the heart- land, their faithful supporters are suffering? How? Well, quite easily, I'd say. Just add a little more water. This Labour government has no idea how lucky it has been with the markets, so far. Harold Wilson's govern- ments never had to complain that the pound was too strong. Either its present improvement is a sign of an improved econ- omy or it is a flash in the markets' pan and will burn itself out. A collapsing currency would soon teach the Blairs to drink up and look unhappy.