The public is right to be angry over this amazing disaster

Another "amazing day" in the story of the Dome, although hardly in the sense that its creators would have hoped for. Just when we thought that the Dome had exhausted its capacity to spring nasty surprises, along comes the frightening news that Nomura, the bank that seemed willing to pay £105m to take it off the Government's hands, has pulled out of the deal. At this rate the Dome may end up joining Longbridge on the list of things you can buy for a tenner. Maybe there will be a "two- zones-for-a-fiver" special. But, in the words of the Conservative culture spokesman Peter Ainsworth: "Who would buy a used Dome from this Government?"

Another "amazing day" in the story of the Dome, although hardly in the sense that its creators would have hoped for. Just when we thought that the Dome had exhausted its capacity to spring nasty surprises, along comes the frightening news that Nomura, the bank that seemed willing to pay £105m to take it off the Government's hands, has pulled out of the deal. At this rate the Dome may end up joining Longbridge on the list of things you can buy for a tenner. Maybe there will be a "two- zones-for-a-fiver" special. But, in the words of the Conservative culture spokesman Peter Ainsworth: "Who would buy a used Dome from this Government?"

Mr Ainsworth may be allowed his gloat at the discomfiture of ministers. But he and his party should never be allowed to forget that it was they who came up with the original proposal. That well-known Tory memoirist Michael Heseltine serves still as a Millennium Commissioner. Indeed, the list of guilty men and women associated with the Dome is a very long one. Partly for this reason, it has been difficult to apportion responsibility for all that has gone wrong.

Certainly, it is grossly unfair and patently absurd to blame the man currently responsible for it, Lord Falconer, for all of the Dome's problems. It is not his fault that the contents failed to live up to expectations. It may indeed be the case, as Lord Falconer points out, that it has still been the most popular paid-for visitor attraction in the country; that those who visited it enjoyed it; and that a neglected corner of London has benefited from regeneration.

But it is not necessary to denigrate the Dome to recognise the single most potent fact about the project: that it has been a vast and unmitigated financial blunder involving a waste of perhaps £1bn of public funds, upon which there were many better calls. Admittedly, most of that money was spent cleaning up the site long before Lord Falconer arrived on the scene. But he has been politically responsible for the Dome since he took over from Peter Mandelson in December 1998, and is certainly accountable for the failed Nomura deal. If Lord Falconer cannot satisfactorily account for this, then he must learn the hard way why democratic politics can be a rough old trade, and resign.

It was Mr Mandelson, another guilty man, who said that if the Dome was a flop, "we will never be forgiven". That is true, and ministers would be well advised to recognise the public's anger. While no government deserves to be judged solely on the basis of one episode, even a fiasco like this one, the Dome has done nothing to help the public to keep faith with New Labour.

Comments