Mike Rowbottom: No Wembley, no Picketts Lock, no Christmas

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The Independent Online

There is a very great deal of work to be done before Christmas can take place in this household.

There is a very great deal of work to be done before Christmas can take place in this household. It remains a possible outcome that there will be no Christmas at all.

Although there is no suggestion that I have acted with any criminality or impropriety at any stage of the present-purchasing process, it is now becoming clear that I have not adhered to the best procurement practices. Those joss sticks are actually good for no one, rather than anyone, and that Mr Benn book is, it transpires, neither witty nor appropriate.

Moreover, while I gave a clear commitment to my children at the beginning of this year that Christmas at No 8 would be one of the finest, if not the finest ever, the project will be dependent on demonstrably adequate financing and all parties delivering on time. Are you listening, Santa?

You'll have to forgive me. I've been engulfed by the latest blizzard of Government-speak following this week's twist in the Wembley re-development tale, and it seems to have coloured my world view.

Last month I attended a Schools Prom at the Royal Albert Hall where two of my children were singing. Before the event, Mr Richard Stilgoe read out a message of support from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, and I recall thinking it was just as well that the Albert Hall had already been built. Had the present Government been responsible for its construction, we would have been attending an open-air concert.

Looking over the artist's impression of the revived Wembley design, its silver-rainbow arch backed by an inky sky in which one can faintly discern the shape of flying pigs, I had a familiar, sinking feeling. Déjà vu all over again.

The season of carols may be upon us, but the Football Association and the Government still cannot sing from the same hymn-sheet.

Political analysts stress that the Government's attitude – call it cautious – results directly from the financial disaster of the Millennium Dome, a project which has cost more than £600 million.

But to equate the Dome with a re-vamped Wembley – or indeed, a stadium at Picketts Lock to host the 2005 World Athletics Championships – is false. One of the major problems with the Dome project was that it turned out to be a paradigm of committee culture, eventually managing to be nothing in particular to all men.

The other major problem was, frankly, that no one really wanted it.

The same does not hold true for the two sporting projects considered most recently by the Government. Lots of people, a generation of athletes, were desperate for the chance to compete for global medals on home soil. Britain's failure to produce the promised London venue for the World Championships has meant the loss of both event and reputation.

Bravo! And the present dithering over whether to support the FA's wish to revivify Wembley will only serve to strengthen the view abroad of Britain's flaky unreliability.

Seb Coe – Lord Coe to you and me – used his recent maiden speech in the House of Lords to condemn Britain's role in reneging on its promise to provide a venue in the capital for the World Championships. His earlier contention that those responsible for the Picketts Lock debacle couldn't run a whelk stall sounded pretty close to the mark.

As an overall news item, Thursday's offering resembled that creature of Doctor Dolittle's world, the push-me, pull-you, moving in opposing directions at the same time.

Rather like that other choice story which appeared on the same day, where fresh scientific evidence that drinking moderate amounts of red wine can reduce heart disease was counterbalanced with research indicating that middle-aged people who start to drink moderate amounts of red wine are 40 per cent more likely than teetotallers to die of cancer. Whoopee.

What are we to make of the Government's position in respect of Wembley Stadium? If it were a physical position, it would be foetal.

This administration has trumpeted its adherence to the principles of open government. But when it comes to it, all the important decisions are covert. Something come up on the stadium front? Pass it on to our "troubleshooter" Patrick Carter. He'll come up with enough possible reasons to cancel if that's what we decide we want to do.

The announcements that have emanated from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport since the last General Election have been craven. Like the sons of the silent age in the David Bowie song, those responsible for steering British sport into the 21st Century have searched through their one-inch thoughts and decided it couldn't be done.

As for Christmas, kids – well, to conclude, Christmas is not cancelled. Or, to put it another way, it might be.

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