Class conscious

I was in Paris during the euro's first couple of days. In a cafe near the Gare du Nord, a film crew filmed me eating oeufs au plat with a hangover as a bit of background colour (the colour was deathly white) to a news feature in which people at some nearby tables were invited to give their views on the new currency. My French isn't too good, but they all seemed to be very much in favour.

Throughout the previous evening, I'd seen the same vignette over and over again, so many times that it was painful for me, in my hungover state, to recall it: barman and customer inspecting the new coins, which look like foil-wrapped chocolate ones lately fallen off a Christmas tree. Sometimes I'd join in and, for once, I was on equal terms with that haughty species, the French barman.

The euro is egalitarian in a wider sense, too, and it was quite touching to watch the trepidatious start of this communal enterprise, like seeing young children hold hands as they leap into a swimming pool.

I was reminded of a long lunch at the Chelsea Arts Club, at which an MEP told me that deeper integration into Europe was the only cure for the British disease of class.

This, he said, was the real reason that the likes of Kenneth Clarke were in favour. It sounded plausible at the time, but then so do most things after a long lunch at the Chelsea Arts Club. Later I thought: what he's really saying is that Europe will, and should, dilute our national character. I myself am divided on whether this would be a good thing. No class system, after all, would mean no "Class Conscious" column in the New Statesman.

It is fortunate indeed that nobody gives a damn about my opinions, because I am so utterly unable to make up my mind about Europe that I even have sympathy for that ultimate victim of ambivalence on the issue, William Hague, and wish him every success with his planned biography of Pitt the Younger - even though the advance is, I believe, something of the order of £200,000, and there will almost certainly be a TV series to follow.

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2002 issue of the New Statesman, A kosher conspiracy?