Election '97 : Settling immortality's accounts

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The Independent Online
As they sift the relics of the last years of the 20th century, archaeologists will be bewildered by the number of plaques, stones, memorials and markers bearing the name John Major and dated in April 1997.

On Wednesday he and Lady Thatcher unveiled a plaque on a building completed long ago. Yesterday Mr Major laid a stone in the wall of a stadium is months away from getting a roof, and as yet unnamed.

Like yesterday's sudden eruption of ennoblement, this flurry of setting and unveiling and commemorating is an understandable impulse, a final fling at the levers of power and immortality while they are still within his reach. The only plausible explanation for the Prime Minister's persistently sunny demeanour during the campaign is that he is already demob happy. In this mood he ranges the country, leaving his mark of ownership on every lamp post. For the one unchallengeable advantage the Tories have over Labour is that they have been in power for 18 years. Whatever has been done, has been done under them.

The nameless stadium, provisionally known as "Reebok", will be the new home for Bolton Wanderers, the phoenix of Northern football. Established in 1874 and a founding member of the Football League, it spent years in the doldrums but has bounded back this year. Completion of the stadium later this year will clinch a glorious spell for the club, whatever they decide to call it. Everything Mr Major goes near these days is the biggest, the best, the most something or other in Europe. "Reebok" is boasted to be Europe's most expensive new football stadium. It will not, however, bankrupt the club, because it is lavishly set about with retail units, leisure facilities, a multiplex cinema, housing and even factories. Four miles out of Bolton's original centre, it is the snake sloughing its Victorian skin and starting over. Fans of the Trotters, as the club is known, come out and sit on benches here just to watch the stadium being built.

It's a relief and a surprise to find a new Tory structure that is not dotted with weathercocks and finished to look like a child-size Tudor manor house. "Reebok" is a heroic structure, with massive steel masts and curving roof members and no discernible reference to any period earlier than the 20th century. In its present state it looks like a giant game of cat's cradle. But of course it's not really a Tory structure at all, having been developed by an alliance of the football club and the Labour- controlled council with a developer. So MR Major's hijacking of it was a cheek, though one connived at by the club itself.

As photo opportunities go, it was particularly futile, as Mr Major could not even bring himself to kick a ball, let alone engage in a bout of heading with the legendary Nat Lofthouse, Bolton's president and still the club's highest goal-scorer, the man who sealed the 1953 FA Cup victory by shoving the Manchester United goalkeeper over the line (or so it was alleged). Tony Blair's brilliant career in the popularity ratings, reporters recalled, can be dated to his heading bout with Kevin Keegan. Might not Mr Major have pulled off a similar coup? Possibly, but he wasn't going to chance it.

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