Leading article: Political follies under the Dome

Share
Related Topics
IT'S ONLY a dome, Prime Minister, only a shell of a building. At best it's only going to accommodate a leisure event. Does that really justify the preachifying and the chiding and the hyperbole Mr Blair served up yesterday? He compared the Dome to St Paul's, and that is fatuous - not because Richard Rogers is not a fine architect who might conceivably deserve comparison with Christopher Wren - but because the cathedral was built in a Christian age to glorify God, and the transcendental purpose of the Dome is... what? New Labour offers no secular religion. We are - to our credit - these days an incredulous people. Does the Prime Minister intend us to worship at the shrine of technology or try to recover a modernist sensibility in a post-modern age? Politicians tend to make very poor midwives to new world-views. It just won't do for the Prime Minister and his acolytes to talk in these quasi-fundamentalist terms: this was conceived as a temporary structure to house a one-off exhibition. He will be lucky if it works out as well as the Festival of Britain in 1951. The Greenwich Dome will succeed if it provides a good, Disneyesque day out. To put the authority of the British state in play for things as evanescent as those is sheer folly.

The Dome's fate rests on the myriad details of leisure business planning. This is for professionals. Yet what we had yesterday was a Cabinet minister - Mr Mandelson - behaving as if he were the project's chief executive. The problem is not just that he is his own worst spokesperson. His serpentine answers; his belligerence; his brittle amour propre: as a political performer he is a liability. But why is he out there on the high wire at all? A legacy from the Tories was the notion of arm's length government. You set up an "agency", give its chief executive full powers and as a politician you (in theory) wind it up and walk away. Politicians are notoriously bad as managers; it is in their own best interests to stand well back. Instead, the Dome project has sucked them in. Its management structure is a mish-mash of political and executive responsibilities. Jenni Page, the chief executive of the company, passes the buck. Lord Rogers (one of the "litmus" testers) says a single creative director is desperately needed. Mr Mandelson (sole shareholder) disagrees. And confusion reigns.

Messrs Blair and Mandelson, admittedly having inherited an administrative mess from the Tories, have compounded the problem by appearing to take personal responsibility. They are too intimate with those private-sector sponsors who have been persuaded to cough up (including, ominously, Rupert Murdoch's Sky - we already know the quid pro quo). As a result the necessarily limited political capital of this government has been strewn profligately over the muddy site at Greenwich. Instead of keeping its powder dry for the important things, New Labour's political fate is being inextricably bound up with events over which mere politicians can have no control - matters of imagination, taste, Jubilee Line signalling.

Yet it is us that Mr Blair reproves. Sounding like a cross between a Baptist minister high in his pulpit and Lady Thatcher in her most grating "Rejoice!" mode, he commands us to respect daring and excellence. It is difficult not to react defensively to his stern criticism of carpers and nay-sayers. There is a national trait which the media carries to extremes, sniffing at greatness. And the Dome is a fantastic construction. The Independent sits, literally, on top of the site and daily we see the spider's web of cables being spun between the rocket-like girders. When the skin is added next month it will become a circus tent of giant proportions. Yesterday's package of contents was alternately bizarre, mind-expanding and banal. So much will depend on the finish, the quality of materials but also the training provided to staff - whose recruitment is being left desperately late.

Of course we have to wish the whole thing well. But we wish this government well too in its central purposes. We therefore also wish that Tony Blair had not yesterday identified himself and New Labour quite as intimately, quite as passionately with a project which so easily could fall into the pits of mediocrity and mismanagement and consequently provoke deep public revulsion.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice