QUEEN MARY is said to have remarked that when she was dead, "you shall find `Calais' lying in my heart". I am beginning to wonder whether it might be the `Jubilee Line' linking central London with the Millennium Dome which will be engraved on the Prime Minister's heart. Further signs that disruptions in building the extension of the line to Greenwich, as a result of unofficial stoppages by electricians, might have serious consequences came towards the end of last week.
For months, too, there have been sporadic acts of sabotage by cutting cables. Now Mr Blair has involved himself personally, as The Independent reported on Saturday, by observing that it is a question of "making sure that the management is allowed to get on and do their job".
The statement is anodyne, but ministers, particularly prime ministers, normally refrain from taking sides in industrial disputes. But here is the Prime Minister himself backing management in a volatile situation. His words will have been widely noted, not least by left-wing activists looking for a chance to challenge the Government. Whether Tony Blair knew it or not, when he declared that he would not cancel the Millennium Dome project but bring it to a successful conclusion, he was undertaking two enormous tasks rather than one. To get the Dome itself finished on time and within budget and to persuade Big Business to pay many of the bills is one daunting job; to ensure that millions of people can travel conveniently to Greenwich by completing the extension to the Jubilee Line is almost its equal. In case of missing the deadline, - only a few weeks before the Dome is due to open - London Underground is considering alternative routes. Such emergency solutions are likely to be a deterrent to travel. The Dome would be ready, but the superstructure, full of wondrous sights, would be more or less empty. The public is likely to be much more critical of lateness than it would be of dullness. I guess that the Prime Minister well understands this. If the contents fail to capture the imagination, there would be disappointment. Yet public opinion might be forgiving and even patient as the faults were corrected. In the final analysis, governments aren't expected to be great impresarios. People would still go to see what the fuss was about. But to be late for an event like the Millennium, would be seen as incompetent. New Labour, having surprisingly taken over the Conservative party's reputation for getting things done, would find that it had lost an electoral asset of great value. Every speech by opposition leaders would refer to the Dome disaster. No doubt this awful prospect is one reason why management of the Jubilee Line project has recently been given to a tough United States contractor, Bechtel. If there is dirty work to be done, the Government could always distance itself by saying, with mock distaste, that these were American business practices rather than British. American managers are often more ruthless than their British counterparts; they play hard ball with natural flair. The determined Bill Gates who we have seen being cross-examined in a Washington court in recent weeks for unfairly using Microsoft's market dominance is a typical example. …