I am astonished that a government normally so sure-footed in judging the public mood has taken on the uphill task of persuading many millions of sceptics up and down the nation that something to justify the enormous outlay can be created in the time remaining. How ironic to use the Festival Hall when Richard Rogers's genuinely inspired makeover of the South Bank, which has on one site the greatest concentration of arts activities in the world, is being delayed for want of funds. It is surely ridiculous that the South Bank will continue to look like a discarded set from A Clockwork Orange through the millennium and beyond while this fundamentally pointless and purposeless dome flourishes.
The Dome in truth is a lot of money chasing a big idea, and chasing it against a time frame that is becoming impossibly short. There were boasts yesterday about the pounds 60m forthcoming, after much arm twisting, from the private sector. Nothing was said of the pounds 90m still outstanding and which no one seems enthusiastic to contribute. Against a background of bickering, and the obvious lack of a single inspirational figure of genius to give the thing life and value, increasingly desperate attempts are being made to persuade us that the dome will contain enough magic to be vaut le voyage. But to my mind it is an impossible task to turn the jumble of ideas presented on Tuesday into something with the overarching coherence necessary to give the project life.
The celebrations of the millennium went wrong almost as soon as the idea emerged five years ago. It might have been possible then to have started projects of real worth, on a number of sites throughout the nation, to give to posterity buildings that spoke of our age as eloquently as places such as the Houses of Parliament or St Paul's Cathedral speak of theirs. But that was not to be; such ideas were too big for the minds then assembled to bring them to pass. The whole thing deteriorated, first into a desperate trawl through the nation for ideas, out of which emerged a series of millennium village hall type projects of unconcealable bathos, and then, once the great exhibition idea had been filched from the past, yet more wrangling over where the project should be located and who should run it.
Such was the state of things when Labour were elected, that everyone would have understood if they had pulled the plug. But they haven't, and they now face a seriously uphill struggle to rescue their own credibility leave aside the Dome's. I do not gloat over any of this. I just feel desperately sad that when it could all have been so different, it has in fact come to this.