Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Britain to reject European constitution"

Last week, a pal asked me if Tony Blair could win the referendum on the European constitution and I confidently said he couldn't. On reflection, I think I was letting my heart rule my head.

My assessment was based on opinion polls that show a large majority opposed to Britain signing up. Another one of those appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 29 January. It was of the "what answer do you want, guv?" school of polling, which asks something like: "Will you vote to let those bastards in Europe double income tax?"

Although the Sunday Telegraph has an outlook on Europe similar to that of its sister paper, it has a much savvier political team and an editor who has a great nose for a story. It commissioned a poll that put the question that will be asked in the real referendum. In this poll, the No vote emerged just two points ahead of the Yes, with a large number of undecided voters.

We all know that the Murdoch press and others will swamp us with bogus anti-European stories during a referendum campaign but, given that the Sunday Telegraph has been doing that for years, its poll was truly remarkable. A few months ago, I chided the paper for claiming the referendum would be in March next year. I believed it would be later. It now looks as if it could be earlier. The Chancellor in particular, having experienced bitter disappointment with the first Scottish devolution vote, believes that referendums are best held close to an election victory. And Tony Blair certainly won't win the vote without Gordon Brown's backing.

So, who knows? With a stunning victory under his belt, Blair may also decide, earlier than we thought, to call it a day. Or is all that just wishful thinking?