I'm impressed, says Dome minister

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A 45-MINUTE tour of the Millennium Dome was all it needed to impress the man who has been handed a poisoned chalice.

"It's very, very impressive," said Lord Falconer of Thoroton, newly appointed minister for the Dome after the departure of Peter Mandelson.

Practically dressed in a hard hat and Wellington boots, Lord Falconer was as reflective as the workman's jacket he decided to wear as he toured the site at Greenwich, south-east London. "It's impossible not to be impressed by the size and scale of the Millennium Dome," he continued.

"It's a real tribute to all the bodies involved. I have seen now what it consists of and I've been told many details about it. It is very, very impressive and it is a project which will give genuine entertainment to all the people who come to it."

It was Lord Falconer's first visit to the pounds 758m project, a visit he was forced to make because of Mr Mandelson's resignation over the house loan affair. No one asked him if he would have bothered to visit it if he had not been appointed to the job - a move criticised by the Conservatives as "cronyism" because he is a close personal friend and former flatmate of Tony Blair.

But Lord Falconer insisted that, as Cabinet Office minister, his job was to get people working together.

"It's for others to judge what my qualities are," he said. "I hope I'm suited for the job, but only time will tell."

On his first day, Lord Falconer also made what may be his first gaffe in the job. Asked whether the delayed Jubilee Line extension - the Underground route expected to be used by 40 per cent of the predicted 12 million Dome visitors - would be completed by the millennium, he replied: "I very, very much hope that the extension will be completed in time. We believe it will be but I don't think there's anybody in the world who can completely guarantee it."

Lord Falconer was accompanied on his tour by Jennie Page, chief executive of the New Millennium Experience Company. Together they saw the foundations for the figure of The Body, a giant exhibit featuring a man and a woman in an embrace.

After his visit, Lord Falconer's thoughts turned to Mr Mandelson. "I don't think anyone can fill Peter Mandelson's boots," he said. "I could never emulate Peter in respect of the work he did for the Dome. I shall just have to do things in my own way."