But if Intel's boss Andy Grove is right that "only the paranoid survive," obsession may be the only rational response from Blair to the scale of his task. He has little time to act if his goal is to transform struggling public services within four years. That was driven home sharply last week when the privatized company that owns the country's train tracks saw its stock price plunge, prompting discussion of drastic rescue plans like renationalization not from wild-eyed Trotskyites but worried financiers. Labour is already late delivering improvements to the antiquated and malnourished railways. It is now becoming clear that soaring repair costs may eat up all the money the government has budgeted over the next few years for expansion and improvement too. It's an awful dilemma for Blair. Almost no one now defends the highly fractured privatization the Tories implemented in 1993. Yet Labour has shunned retaking control ostensibly because it would create more turmoil for management, and also because Blair doesn't want to be blamed every time the 5:35 to Basingstoke is late. He may have no choice but to plunge in to save the government's 10-year, $100 billion railroad investment plan.
His inbox overflows with other problems tougher than beating Hague: refurbishing decrepit roads and London's Underground; how much leeway to give private companies to run state schools and hospitals; how to forestall a mass resignation by family physicians frustrated by long hours and low wages; how to recruit enough police simply to replace those departing, let alone deploy lots more cops on the beat. He has promised a "radical second term," but achieving it will require taking more risks than the cautious pattern deeply ingrained in his premiership. Moreover, all of his ambitious plans to revamp Britain's infrastructure will still leave the government spending 10-20% less as a percentage of gdp than comparable European countries. Tony Travers, a government instructor at the London School of Economics, says this means Blair's plans boil down to a promise "that within four years ... we can have trains like France, pensions like Germany, and taxes like Florida." The strong showing of the Liberal Democrats, who back higher taxes, may give Labour room to contemplate that dangerous step if other remedies fail.
The trickiest problem is what to do about the euro. Polls show that upwards of 70% of voters want to stay out of the single currency. But Blair wants in. He thinks it's a historic mistake for Britain to hover on Europe's sidelines and that the euro is the ticket to full admission, which will bestow many benefits including the ability to shove an evolving Europe in the direction of greater democracy and openness. Since 1997 he has dodged the issue by saying his views on membership would depend on passing five economic tests and only after this election. Outside 10 Downing St. last Friday, he said that "in respect of Europe, we have to make changes there too" code that he takes his landslide, in the face of Hague's determined campaign to "save the pound," as a mandate to prepare for a referendum on entry. His political opponents think he is attracted to the idea not so much for reasons of policy as vanity: a project so grand it will change the country irredeemably. "He wants to be the 'Big I Am' in Europe," snarled a retired legal secretary in Hastings who declined to give her name. "He doesn't care what it does to us."
In the election the euro was swamped by more sharply felt issues like creaky schools and hospitals. In a referendum it will stand by itself, a lightning rod not just to those who think it's economically daft to end national control over interest rates, but also to those who fear British national identity and sovereignty are leaching away to European institutions they distrust. (In one poll, only 19% of British adults said they felt "close" or "very close" to Europe.) The currency markets have made their own bet: they dumped sterling the day after the election, betting that Blair is certain to join the euro, but at a lower exchange rate. Blair's choice of Jack Straw as Foreign Secretary was also viewed as a euro-related move, on the theory that replacing the wildly pro-euro Robin Cook with someone more skeptical will allow Straw to create a p.r. splash when he openly converts.
The fight on this defining issue for Blair's second term has already begun. Leaks from the pro-euro camp last week suggested Blair would open a general offensive in the autumn. It will barrage voters on the euro's broader political benefits, and argue that "Europe has something to offer us, which is something British people never hear," says Mark Leonard, director of the Foreign Policy Centre. Blair will also elaborate upon recent speeches claiming that deeper engagement in Europe is "patriotic" and shows "self-belief." After that sinks in, his argument will shift to economics, coinciding with a certification by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown likely in 2002 that joining the euro would "clearly and unambiguously" meet all five (quite malleable) tests of economic benefit. All this reshaping of public opinion will take time to complete. "There's no rush at all," says Simon Buckby, campaign director of the pro-euro group Britain in Europe, which has close ties to Downing St. Euro activists insist anti-euro sentiment is wide but shallow; that the Tories' divisions on Europe will leave few compelling figures to lead a "save the pound" fight; and that a united front of business leaders, economists and the weight of the government will be persuasive on a subject so complex.
To head off this impending offensive, Dominic Cummings, campaign director of Business for Sterling, is itching to make a pre-emptive strike. He thinks he can harden anti-euro sentiment before Blair can make inroads. "Waiting is the biggest mistake we could make," he says. So his "No" campaign is buying newspaper ads and preparing a mailing to every business and household, stressing not sovereignty and identity as Hague did, but the threat the euro poses to jobs and living standards. "If we can run the right kind of campaign, there will be no referendum."
Well, maybe. Though Blair knows losing a referendum would be a humiliation, just the break a new Tory leader could use to gain stature before the next general election, the pro-euro drumbeat inside Labour is definitely getting louder. "We're in a very deep hole, but that makes it all the more interesting a challenge," says a top Blair aide, with surprising relish for a member of a historically risk-averse group. On the other hand, joining the euro may be simpler than fixing the roads and hospitals. Enjoy your second term, Tony.