Heseltine breaks ranks on Dome

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The Independent Online
William Hague faced yet more dissent from his own ranks last night after Michael Heseltine went dramatically "off message" over the Millennium Dome.

While the Conservative leader and his culture spokesman, Francis Maude, had been directing their fire at the project, the former deputy prime minister decided to speak out in its support.

Worse, Mr Heseltine even had kind words for Peter Mandelson, the much- loathed minister without portfolio who is in charge of the project. Mr Mandelson was doing an important job and it was "very understandable" that he should have visited Disney World in pursuit of ideas, he said.

Mr Heseltine, who ran the project himself until last May, is still a millennium commissioner. Speaking of Mr Mandelson in a BBC interview, he said: "He is doing the job as well as it can be done. It is difficult and a controversial job to do and there is no easy precedent.

"You have a huge range of people with opinions ... and all of these things have to be reconciled against deadlines and budgets," Mr Heseltine said.

"I have no doubt at all that when we get to the millennium the world will come to see what we have done and this country will stand proud of having had the courage to own the most exciting project anywhere in the world," he said.

Mr Heseltine's timing could hardly have been more embarrassing for Mr Hague, who had given an interview for tomorrow's edition of The Spectator in which he attacked the Government's handling of the project, saying: "There has been a huge failure of management by this Government, and unless the whole thing is to end in chaos the ministers responsible must get a grip."