Tony Blair fell for the Millennium Exhibition at Greenwich. Tory MPs chose the only slightly smaller, but equally dazzling globe that encases William Hague's brain. Both the Tonydome and the Torydome are basking in triumph, but each has a tiny flaw that mars its perfection: neither Mr Blair nor the Tories have the first clue what's going on inside either of them. And, as the Prime Minister pointed out, the little we can guess about their contents inspires a yawn. However the choices of the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Conservative Party tell us quite a lot about those who now worship the BSWDs.
Let's first take the Torydome. He is not leader by virtue of stunning good looks, overwhelming force of personality, experience in office or compelling rhetoric. So it must have something to do with what he believes in. We know that the new Conservative leader favours hanging, and lowering the age of homosexual consent, and won't touch the single currency with a barge pole. But this doesn't really add up to a philosophy. Even the most dimwitted, champagne-sozzled Hague supporter among Conservative MPs must fleetingly have wondered what sort of Tory future he was offering. No doubt he quickly shrugged off the urge to inquire and settled for the most convincing argument: whoever he is, he ain't Ken Clarke.
In rejecting Clarke, the Conservatives have made a historic choice. This is a party with two fundamental driving ideas: the market and the nation- state. The Tories are at their most successful when they can combine these two. It was easy during the days of Empire, when the Union flag and its gunboats carried the power to force British goods down the throats of more than half the world's population; and in the early 1980s, when the Thatcherite revolution - deregulation in particular - gave British firms a jump on the rest of the world. But with the coming of global markets the pivot has shifted. The interests of British capitalism are no longer always identical to the interests of the British nation; nor indeed are the most dynamic sectors of our economy under wholly British ownership. That is why the bosses of most British transnationals talk about the inevitability of European integration, while those who principally operate within the domestic market resist it with all their might.
It is not at all clear that Mr Hague grasps the significance of his decision to rule out the single currency. He may have seen it as a tactical issue, but I am sure that it will come to be seen as a decisive moment in the history of his party. At various points in the Tories' history, they have placed the market first. At others, the nation has been their touchstone. On Thursday, Tory MPs told their supporters that since Labour has now become the party of the modern, global market, they now want to be the party of the nation.
Vexingly for them, that nation now is England, not Britain. This bodes ill for Mr Hague. He may soon find himself trying to modernise the unmodernisable: a narrow, nationalist, exclusive little sect, abandoned by all but the meanest-spirited bigots. The new Tory leader may prove me wrong. But if Lord Parkinson - once again appointed party chairman - is the best thing in the Tory modernisers' locker, I won't be holding my breath.
The Tonydome, on the other hand, is striving to represent something quite different, outward-looking and futuristic. It may be a little unfair to describe this as Tony's show. Greenwich owes its good fortune largely to the intervention of the only true son of the capital in Mr Blair's top team, Peter Mandelson. It was his silky presentation of the case that silenced opponents around the ministerial table. Sadly, he was not helped much by London's representatives in the House of Commons, nor their local authority representatives, whose cheerleading for the project had all the force of a flock of superannuated turkeys. The London Labour MP Margaret Hodge did her best to wake her colleagues to the issue; the journalist and millennium commissioner Simon Jenkins carried on a sustained one-man campaign. I myself used several hours of LWT's expensive television time to making the case for Greenwich, and even travelled to Manchester and Birmingham to argue the toss with the people of those cities. But throughout it all, the city and most of its representatives remained passive. This was not a task that should have been left to backbenchers, businessmen or scribblers. It needed the authority of authentic political backing from across the capital.
This entire episode, if nothing else, demonstrates why the capital needs a mayor. He or she could have persuaded the rest of the UK just why they will benefit more from having the exhibition in London. He or she would have twisted arms to ensure that people from all over the nation would be able to visit the place at an affordable price. He or she would have insisted from the start that there was something left behind (one of the earliest suggestions was an urban forest, which would have added a huge new green space to London). Above all, he or she would have insisted that the public were to be told about the content early, and that the plan would be exciting enough to attract even the Blairlets.
In doing this last, however, there are two difficulties that were not faced by the organisers of the 1951 celebrations, frequently quoted by Simon Jenkins. One is that in 1951 we were not competing with cheap trains to Disneyland Paris, and affordable flights to Florida's Universal Studios. The Prime Minister, a doting father, acknowledged this. He knows that if it is not at least as good as Disney, then we'd rather stay home, thanks. Any show will have to go some in the entertainment stakes to compete; the exhibition may have worthy aims, but please God, it must not be just a bigger version of the annual trip to the Science Museum.
The second difficulty is more intractable. No more than one in 200 Britons can fit on the site at any one time, never mind the tourist who, we hope, will turn up to pay for the whole thing. So how do we share the moment of transition to the new millennium? The experience of the VE Day anniversary celebrations and of Euro 96 suggest that the organisers will now have to think quite differently. Most people celebrated close to home with their friends and families, and joined the nation by TV.
Perhaps one element of the national outreach should provide for vast TV screens at hundred of sites around the nation, through which Inverness can see Isleworth and Brighton can join with Blackpool. After all, these days, if it's not on TV it can't be real anyway, can it?
To make all this work will take the skills of a brilliant impresario, the resources of a major entertainment group, and the charm of a super fixer. I imagine that those behind the Tonydome already have the names of Mr Harvey Goldsmith, Granada's Gerry Robinson, and Sir Bob Scott on file. There are others equally able who Tony will be able to call upon to deliver his dome. Uncomfortably for his opponent across the House of Commons, the equivalent file in Conservative Central Office is pretty thin. It will be some time before his dome produces anything that can compete, even with Disney.Reuse content