Leading Article: Let's pay the piper and call the tune

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Work on the Greenwich Peninsula, under our windows here at Canary Wharf, is at full pelt. Lorries are coming and going, decontaminating the former gasworks chosen as the site for celebrating the last 1,000 years of British history and achievement and looking ahead to the next 1,000: the Millennium Exhibition. While the lorries toil, the politicians argue. Instead of instilling a sense of excitement about what should be a glorious party, the Greenwich exhibition, complete with its spaceship dome, has descended into Whitehall farce. A phrase about being incapable of organising a party in a brewery comes to mind. The fault is entirely of ministers' own making. As ever, they wanted big business to share the cost. Understandably, companies are unwilling to write open cheques and need to see some guarantee of a return before they put pens to paper.

For once, the Government should have reached for its cheque book - our cheque book - and committed whatever is necessary to create a huge, stylish, tableau of everything that is best about Britain. Tickets should be free and transport should be laid on for people outside London. Everybody should be invited. There should not be a corporate logo in sight, no cheap commercial stunts, no crass advertising, no arguments about who foots the bill.

Rather than profit and promotion, the motives should be educational, entertaining and spiritual. The embarrassment that could unfold in Greenwich would not happen in France or Germany. There, the governments would spend the money and nobody would bat an eyelid. Here we are cautious, especially when it comes to grandiose national displays. This, though, is a case for opening the public purse. After all, it only happens once every 1,000 years.

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