6 SEPTEMBER 2003, Page 28

Har är mit rad till Svenska folket: rUsta nej, rOsta ofta

T, his is my message to the people

of Sweden: Vote No, vote often. As you can see, I have burst into Swedish to put it across, and it seems to be working. Next weekend, in a referendum, the Swedes will have the chance to decide whether their currency should join the euro, and the opinion polls continue to signal that they will vote to stay out. A steady drizzle of lectures from tycoons and trades unions, telling them what a chance they are missing, appears to have left them unmoved. Their prime minister warns them that such a chance will not come again for a decade, to which they might reply, as Eddie George did, that if Europe's single currency is supposed to be for ever, what's the hurry? Like the obstinate child in the Saki short story, they disagree with their elders and betters who patiently tell them that there could not possibly be a frog in their bread and milk. The elders and betters turned out to be wrong, as the child knew, having put the frog there himself. Here, too, the elders and betters appear to have called it a day. The tycoons and trades union leaders who used to lecture us, week in week Out, on the euro's necessity say so less often. Britain in Europe, launched by Tony Blair and led by the inevitable Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, has wearied after all these years on standby, ready to fight for the euro in a referendum as soon as the signal is given. The signal now seems to be that, what with this and that and the Hutton inquiry, the referendum is off until further notice. Why, after all, should the Prime Minister call it unless he expected to win it? The polls continue to tell him that we, too, detect a frog in our bread and milk.

Bending the rules

You might say that we and the Swedes ought to count ourselves lucky to get the chance to be asked our opinions before we are signed up for the euro. We are certainly in a minority. Nobody asked the Germans before the mark was rubbed out and the Bundesbank downgraded from the most powerful central bank on the continent of Europe to the second most powerful central bank in Frankfurt. They are stuck with its neighbour's policies, and have to sit and suffer. The French voted oui by a suspiciously tiny majority after the ballot boxes came in from Reunion Island, and now they refuse to be bound by the

rules. Never mind the growth and stability pact, says Alain Lambert, France's budget minister, we'll borrow as much as we need. Others might like to bend the rules far enough to let them leave the euro for five minutes and come back in at a more competitive rate of exchange. The Germans would surely be tempted — that is, if anyone asked them.

Everything must go

Poor old Asil Nadir. The great financier and packer of oranges for Polly Peck was out on bail when his light aircraft turned right instead of left, and he ended up in Northern Cyprus, where he has been ever since. Now he wants to come home, and hopes that the Serious Fraud Office will cut a deal that would keep him out of prison. Bad publicity, he fears, might prejudice his trial, and you can see his point of view. When the lavish furnishings of his head office were being sold off, one of the receivers' men drew my attention to fourteen young ladies, each with a top-of-therange BMW, who were retained as consultants. [declined to bid for them.

Ahem, I say

Bertie Wooster likened Jeeves's admonitory cough to a sheep clearing its throat on a distant mountainside. If he had been listening to Paul Tucker, he would have recognised the tone. Mr Tucker is the Bank of England director who, the other day, left his home pastures for the moors of Yorkshire, to talk about credit and monetary policy and our apparently insatiable appetite for borrowing money. Ahem. he said. Interest rates, he said, were now below average — the Bank's own rate is at its lowest for half a century — so it would be prudent to plan on the assumption that, over time, they would go up. Prudently or not, last month we borrowed more money on mortgage than ever, much of it by remortgaging our houses to raise more money against them, and then, presumably, spending it. Perhaps Mr Tucker's cough will make us think twice — as the young master could testify, it always paid to pick up Jeeves's signals — but if the Bank wants to catch our attention, it has simpler means at its disposal. Two months ago, Mr Tucker and his colleagues on the Monetary Policy Committee voted to make money cheaper, so we rushed out to borrow, and no wonder. If they want to stop us, all they need do is to move interest rates up again. Actions speak louder than coughs.

Running water

Running a waterworks — or any business where the regulator can set limits to your prices — is like playing Grandmother's Footsteps. You need to scamper forward when she isn't looking, but when she turns round you must be standing still and looking smug, or you will be in trouble. The railwaymen still need to practise this, but the watermen are experts. This summer gave them their chance. As one scorching day followed another, our taps and our hoses were never allowed to run dry — how different, we were reminded, from the bad old days of standpipes and the Minister for Rain. . We ought to have seen them coming. Now they tell us that if they are to maintain their high standards and to satisfy the Health and Safety Monitor, they need to invest, which means raising their prices by — ooh, say, 20 or 30 per cent? Only thus can the water in Morecambe Bay be kept pure enough to satisfy its shrimps, before they are fished out and potted. They are, I am told, more demanding than we are, but they are sure to go down well with Grandmother.

Never touch it

It was a brave man (a brave minister) who told Margaret Thatcher that there was no need to pour all this money into water. Why make it fit for human consumption, he asked her, when most of it never comes near us? Instead, we should be forbidden to drink from the tap. Even with a subsidy for mineral water in bottles, this would save billions. She bridled: 'Why has no one told me this before?'