Who should we blame for the great Dome disaster?

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The clamour for Charlie Falconer's resignation grew deafening yesterday. But it is misplaced. It is true that a minister has rarely sounded more uncomfortable and unconvincing in defence of the indefensible than Lord Falconer as he moved the goalposts again in his attempts to justify the Millennium Dome. Never mind "the envy of the world" (the Prime Minister, speaking in 1998), the Dome is now officially a "disappointing" trade fair that was well worth £800m of public money because it helped to regenerate a deprived part of - well, one of the richest cities in the world.

The clamour for Charlie Falconer's resignation grew deafening yesterday. But it is misplaced. It is true that a minister has rarely sounded more uncomfortable and unconvincing in defence of the indefensible than Lord Falconer as he moved the goalposts again in his attempts to justify the Millennium Dome. Never mind "the envy of the world" (the Prime Minister, speaking in 1998), the Dome is now officially a "disappointing" trade fair that was well worth £800m of public money because it helped to regenerate a deprived part of - well, one of the richest cities in the world.

The minister for the Dome sounded like the barrister he is defending a client against the overwhelming weight of the evidence.

William Hague, the Conservative leader, is quite right to point out that the Dome has been a breathtaking waste of public money - the fact that it came from the lottery rather than the Inland Revenue makes not the slightest difference of principle. Almost as breathtaking, however, is Mr Hague's hypocrisy in attacking a project begun under the government in which he served.

The Dome has been a miserable failure, but Lord Falconer should not take the blame. He was simply put in charge of the deeply-flawed project long after it was too late to halt it, a lightning conductor for criticism that should hit others more culpable.

There is no doubt where the buck stops in this case. Tony Blair could have cancelled the Dome when he became Prime Minister. That course of action was, indeed, proposed by Chris Smith, the eminently-sensible Secretary of State for Culture, and supported by a majority in Cabinet. Mr Blair used the leverage of having just won a landslide election to force through the decision to save the Dome. It was possibly his biggest mistake, so he must take the blame.

It was a vain and empty project, which Mr Blair thought would embody the ambition of modernity and help him to win the next election. Beyond that, however, he had no idea what it was for. We name the other guilty men: Michael Heseltine and Peter Mandelson. But their part in bouncing and advising Mr Blair cannot absolve the Prime Minister of his ultimate responsibility.

What penalty, then, should Mr Blair pay? He is reported to have said, before the Dome opened, that it would represent the "first line" of Labour's next manifesto. That first line should appear over Mr Blair's familiar signature: "We all learn from our mistakes - and this even applies to me. If Labour is returned to government at the election, I promise to listen to my Cabinet colleagues more and avoid spending any more millions on futile political gestures."

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