The euro made simple
Television - Andrew Billen would rather be governed by Evan Davis than Tony Blair
Sunday, as you may remember, was Euro Announcement Day Minus One. Bizarrely, the BBC acted as if it thought that there was still everything to play for and we were all seething with anticipation. The long day dawned with Sir David Frost interviewing Charles Kennedy (print those euros now), Iain Duncan Smith (rule it out for ever) and then the Chancellor himself, who played the game by pretending that Sir David was artfully trying to prise the decision from him but that, constitutionally, parliament just retained precedence over Frosty.
As politicians so often do, presumably because they prefer Breakfast With Frost to continue for ever lest it be replaced with something more tiresome such as Breakfast With Paxman, Brown did throw him something: the scoop that the cabinet would now campaign not for the euro, but to "sweep aside anti-European prejudices". Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the euro, I sang to myself. As much as the dodgy WMD dossier, the government's persiflage over the euro proves its terminal inability to take the fate of this nation seriously.
That night's excellent edition of Correspondent persuaded me I would much rather be governed by Evan Davis, the BBC's economics editor. Davis is a bit of a card. He waves his arms around like Peter Snow, makes bad puns and likes to pretend that, when it comes to economics, everything is an abstruse joke. But that is just his manner. Evan's Euro Adventure (7.15pm, BBC2) demonstrated that he is infinitely more serious about explaining the euro's pros and cons than the government.
It started with Davis packing his suitcase for a three-week tour of four European countries - and the five economic tests. The tests, he explained, were not so hard to remember if you divided them up into two and three. The first two asked whether joining would do us harm: was the economy enough in sync with the eurozone economy and, if we got out of sync, was it flexible enough to adapt. The other three tests asked: "Will it do us much good?": to investment, to the City and for jobs.
He flew first to Greece, where people were moaning about prices being rounded up after the euro's introduction. But the Greeks moan about everything. Inspecting a fourth-century burial chamber uncovered in an Athens railway station, he came up with the theory that the more a nation is rolling in history the less anxious it will be about giving up a bit of it, such as the drachma. Next stop was France, where Davis talked to cheese-makers, chefs and Airbus. The French economy is doing well, and the euro was helping it to do so in a modest way, he concluded. Thence to Germany, where a gloomy artistic director of the Frankfurt Opera House lamented how poor the city had become and how hard it was to get sponsorship. What the economy needed was lower interest rates, but that was exactly what the euro prevented the government ordering up. But - and here he treated us with a bit of ungovernmental respect - Davis admitted: "I just can't get the Germans to blame the euro."
His final stop was Lisbon, where the Portuguese, suffering their own down- turn, proved much less reluctant. Having borrowed too much money to get themselves out of trouble, their government was being punished by the eurozone's stability pact and being told to borrow less. He talked to a state nurse whose overtime had not been paid thanks to these economies.
As Davis sailed away, he said he knew what we were thinking: that the one-size-fits-all euro was bad news for struggling economies. But it was not as simple as that: the Portuguese government liked having the stability pact to blame for doing what it wanted to do anyway. Also, the stability pact was in the process of being reformed. Much was clarified in this entertaining 45 minutes, which, with the sound down, would have made a pretty Wish You Were Here. Davis related the economy to real life at every stage. He was amusing, uncondescending and intelligible.
The sanity did not last long, however. By the Ten O'Clock News (BBC1), the political correspondent Laura Trevelyan was standing outside No 11, as if there was something to report - which, of course, there wasn't. It was followed by a mess of a Panorama, in which Gavin Ewart observed rather than chaired a discussion between "straight-talkers" from politics and journalism. Unintentionally, no doubt, the mix of big mouths - I mean straight-talkers - produced an anti-euro majority as Michael Portillo ("the five tests are a load of phooey") was opposed by Clare Short, whose hatred of Tony Blair turned out to extend to a hatred of his euro policy. The best bit was the spat she got into with the Guardian's pro-Tony, pro-euro Polly Toynbee ("Don't accuse me of being disingenuous, Polly. I'm talking my truth . . ."). The programme was further muddled with vox pops and text messages from viewers.
The programme was broadcast from the crypt of the Treasury, and would have been best left buried there. On a floor above, we were assured several times, Gordon Brown was still working on his "announcement". Yeah, right.
Andrew Billen is a staff writer on the Times