Millenium Politics: What's in the Dome? A solution to the Mandelson problem, maybe

We are already aware that the Millennium Dome will be capacious. Every schoolboy knows (provided he can actually read) that you could fit Nelson's Column under the Teflon canopy and surround it with four Albert Halls. But an equally pertinent question would be: "Is it big enough to contain Peter Mandelson's ambitions?" And, from his perspective at least, the answer seems to be a decided "yes". The Minister without Portfolio has taken possession of the scheme. He reportedly refers to it casually as "my Dome" and far from maintaining a cautious distance between himself and a project which could easily bite the hand that feeds it, he has repeatedly jumped the safety moat. If it all does go wrong it will be virtually impossible for him to claim that he wasn't at the heart of the failure. And this needs explanation, surely. It may be that his admiration for his grandfather (who masterminded the Festival of Britain) has added an emotional allure to this task but there must be more to it than that.

We shouldn't rule out the possibility, first of all, that the possession has worked in the other direction entirely - that Mr Mandelson has succumbed to building fever, a delirium caused by the intoxicating fumes that rise from architectural models. It is an occupational hazard for architects, naturally, most of whom live their lives in a haze of never-to-be-realised magnificence. But architects are inured to the effects by repeated exposure, are far better able to maintain some notion of reality in order to survive the inevitable disappointments.

Outsiders often have weaker heads. When I worked at the BBC, for example, it was widely believed that the career advancement of Dick Francis, then head of radio, had been finally derailed after his seduction by a Norman Foster design for a new Broadcasting House. This was to occupy the site of the old Langham Hotel and it would have been a wonder - "responding to but not overwhelming" All Souls opposite, providing a "diagonal processional galleria" from Cavendish Square through to the flagship of public service broadcasting. Norman Foster came in to address staff about its potential glories, which included glass-walled recording studios to reveal broadcasters to their public and a U-shaped lift, which would carry workers between any floor of the old building and any level of the new. Such a lift had never been built before and seemed to some of us a slightly over-engineered substitute for the zebra crossing which had given years of maintenance- free service, but it was all part of the fantasy of advancement and achievement such endeavours generate, the bliss of tangible progress.

You can see that the Greenwich site is heady stuff in this respect. From toxic dereliction to wonder of the world in just a few short years; if it works it will be the make-over of the decade and it will reflect on its begetter a glow of mastery and control. Those who wonder why an able politician should pour all his energies into the erection of a glorified big top have to take account of the fact that the big top might be seen by Mr Mandelson to contain the one thing which he conspicuously lacks - public acclaim and even (let us dream a little along with him) public affection. (I don't want to be casually snotty about the Dome, incidentally: even in its skeletal state, a crown rack of lamb without the meat, it already inspires awe by its sheer scale. If Mr Mandelson has lost his heart, it is not to a mediocre edifice.) So we may have one speculative answer to the question we began with - in career terms the Dome may represent a zig which will only make obvious sense in the light of the succeeding zag, the route to high office often requiring some crab-like motions.

But it is worth remembering, too, that questions change their meaning depending on who is asking them. Imagine that same initial query put by Tony Blair, for example. It would, I think, sound a good deal more calculated and strategic and it is difficult to believe that Mr Mandelson has not taken that into account. In The Prince Machiavelli refers at one point to the admirable utility of the French parliament in insulating the king from public hatred. "From this," he writes, "we may draw an important conclusion: that princes should entrust unpopular measures to others, and reserve popular ones for themselves". On the face of it, though, Tony Blair seems to have done precisely the opposite - he has taken on the task of pushing through welfare reform, a potentially explosive task, while his trusted lieutenant is made Minister for Bread and Circuses. Never mind that the Dome is turning out to be a singularly unpopular project (a contempt reinforced almost daily by comedians, for whom its bulk and vacuity make it an unmissable target) that couldn't necessarily have been foreseen at the time when Mr Mandelson was given his job. But when you think about it the Dome took a sizeable stone out of Tony Blair's shoe. The Prime Minister's gifts of incredulity are considerable - as demonstrated by his ingenuous shock when anyone questions his good intentions - but even he must have recognised that the nation did not love Bobby as he did, never mind his colleagues in the Labour Party. And once the task of election was over it was difficult to see to what task Mr Mandelson could be applied without generating a persistent screech of internal friction. The job of supervising the Dome, safely beyond the pale of government policy, and ambiguously poised between reward and exile, could hardly be bettered as a solution. Mr Mandelson's friends can present it as a great opportunity, fraught with dangers that only amplify the eventual achievement, while his enemies can relish the diet of scepticism and contempt he will be obliged to consume for the next two years. It may well be staggeringly expensive, then, but in one respect at least, the Dome is already fulfilling its function.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Employment Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little