Magazine article The Spectator

Two Nations

Magazine article The Spectator

Two Nations

Article excerpt

It is fashionable to blame the `guilty men' of the Dome, the politicians and fixers who have tip-toed away from disaster and left Bob Ayling and poor M. P-Y Gerbeau to carry the can. The newspapers are currently studded with their pictures, like some Chinese billboard proclaiming the enemies of the People: Virginia Bottomley, Chris Smith, Stephen Dorrell, Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair, Lord Falconer, Simon Jenkins, Michael Grade, and in an ideal world they would all be put in the stocks and pelted with rotten eggs by those who have had their operations cancelled to pay for this monumental cock-up. There is one man, however, whose punishment should perhaps be interrupted after only a couple of hours; and that is Michael Heseltine.

Of all the pro-Dome militants, Hezza was the only one to suggest something decent to put inside it. `Just give them the band of the Royal Marines,' was his advice - ignored - for the catastrophic opening night, `and there won't be a dry eye in the house.' Mr Heseltine is almost alone in this crew, in that he has considerable experience of business, and his epically successful ventures in publishing have given him an inkling of public taste. What he foresaw, correctly, to be the chief defect of the Dome was that it had nothing really to do with British achievement or culture. The various zones abjectly failed to celebrate British history, because the commissars of the Millennium Commission quailed at the political connotations. What should they celebrate? The Empire? Monarchy? The triumph of the language of Shakespeare and other dead white males? Dear me no, they said: and they filled the Dome with nothing. In its humourlessness, its lack of irony, its plonking obsession with rootless ahistorical modernity, the Millennium Exhibition says absolutely zilch about this country over the last 2,000 years. But it says quite a lot about the present ruling establishment.

Tony Blair has said that the Dome is `so inspiring that it embodies at once the spirit of confidence and adventure in Britain and the spirit of the future of the world'. In this demented semi-ecstatic puffery -- from which he has not resiled - he hands the Tories the perfect metaphor for his government. The trouble with New Labour is that it has tried too hard to draw everyone into its big tent, by offering them a programme they could not possibly find disagreeable. After three years, Labour risks leaving too many in its audience either revolted or apathetic. The risk of being all things to all men is that you end up being nothing to anybody. …

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