Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


Unfortunately the Dome debate has greatness thrust upon it

The Great Millennium Debate grinds ever onwards, with people weighing in from every walk of society to have their say about the Dome, and Peter Mandelson, and the concept, and the design, and the Greenwich Theatre, and ... well, put it this way - personally I don't blame the Spice Girls for heading to Hollywood to get away from it all.

But I see it as my duty to contribute to the Great Millennium Debate as well, before I die, so I have gathered together a panel of experts to continue the debate, including Melvyn Bragg, Germaine Greer, Julie Burchill, Paul Johnson, Jonathan Miller, David Starkey the historian, Ned Sherrin, Chris Evans, Professor Steve Jones, Bernard Cribbins, Armando Iannucci, and many others, to talk us through the pros and cons of whatever it's all about.

We join the debate as Jonathan Miller puts in a word.

Miller: May I just say that I mistrust any debate that is labelled "great"? Anything that is labelled "great" before it happens is unlikely to be great. After all, even the Great War was only dubbed so in retrospect. I seem to remember that whenever the Tory government wanted to tell us what its plans were, it announced that we should have a "great national debate" on the subject. The debate was never great and never national, as only the government bothered to join in. So it wasn't really a debate either.

Michael Ignatieff: I think the whole trouble is that we haven't defined what we are talking about ...

Starkey: I think the whole trouble is that tin-pot intellectuals always insist on defining what we are talking about.

Greer: I think the whole trouble is that the British think that the word "intellectual" is an insult.

Johnson: Oh God, not that old chestnut again. Next thing you know, someone will be standing up and saying that the British hate success.

Branson: The British actually do resent success, you know. If someone British makes it big, it's only a matter of time before he has to be cut down to size. Evans: I suppose next you'll be saying you keep failing in your balloon flights on purpose in order to pre-empt people's jealousy of you.

Bragg: The whole point is that we British always play things down before they happen, and say they can never work, and then afterwards we all say what a brilliant success it was and forget that we predicted its failure. I mean, in 1914 everyone said the war was going to be a disaster, and yet, as Jonathan has said, it was a Great War.

Miller: I just said it was called a Great War. It was actually a disaster. A great disaster.

Iannucci: Not at all. It was very useful. It killed off most of the elder sons of the British aristocracy, something that Lenin came nowhere near achieving.

Starkey: You mean, the best minds of one generation were wiped out!

Jones: Genetically speaking, there is nothing to suggest that the aristocracy are any more intelligent than any other branch of society.

Starkey: Poppycock.

Buerk: Thank you, David, and our next witness is ... ?

Cribbins: Bernard Cribbins, and what I want to know is, what on earth am I doing here?

Buerk: Well, we had intended to get Bernard Ingham along, but I'm afraid we invited the wrong person.

Greer: It's odd to think that at one point Sir Bernard Ingham was never off the telly, and now he's never on.

Ianucci: It's the Tony Slattery syndrome. Once Tony Slattery became a byword for ubiquitousness, nobody asked him to appear any more, so now he is a byword for invisibility.

Sherrin: What actually did happen to Tony Slattery?

Ianucci: He was replaced by Paul Merton.

Bragg: Look, I think we're getting away from the central thrust of the debate ...

Miller: Don't say thrust. I hate the word thrust. It gives quite the wrong image of debates, because it suggests that debates actually go somewhere. They don't. They go round in circles, calling at everyone's prejudices in turn. Have you ever known anyone in history having their mind changed by a debate?

Cribbins: He's right, you know. I'd never thought of that.

Ianucci: So your mind has been changed by this debate??

Cribbins: You're right, too. I'd never thought of that either.

Bragg: Poppycock.

Cribbins: You're right. I hadn't thought of that.

Starkey: Look, speaking as a historian, I have to say that these great end-of-the-decade and mid-decade events, like the Great Exhibition and the Festival of Britain, are simply statements of the nation's state of the mind. And this controversy about the Dome shows that the nation is fatally divided and apathetic!

Sue Lawley: Mmmmm. Another record?

The Great Debate continues.