Doomed by the Dome: Blair's Faring Health
Mullen, Richard, Contemporary Review
SHORTLY before midnight on Millennium Eve, the glitterati of London's fashionable boroughs -- or at least those who were invited and could get in -- assembled at a preposterous structure. Amid the glare of television lights and the blast of jungle rhythms, the 'Dear Leader' himself -- as Tony Blair is increasingly called -- moved forward, armed with his perpetual grin. In theory the [pounds]4m party was to be launched by Her Majesty the Queen, but she seemed like Marie Antoinette hauled about by a grinning version of Lafayette at the dawn of the French Revolution. As a semi-obscene ballet was performed, the Greenwich Dome was opened. This was to be the great symbolic moment of the New Labour government. It would reveal to a supposedly envious world the stunning vision of the Leader himself and all that he was doing to transform worn-out, traditional, old, fustian Britain into the exciting, modern, fun-filled, multicultural land he had dreamt up. I confess to missing the great moment as, not being well, I had taken two riotous glasses of Seven-Up a few hours earlier and retired to bed.
I was not alone, even among editors, in missing this fabled moment of world history. Here we were about to be given 'a new heaven and a new earth' based on 'hype' never before seen in British political history, or at least not since Lloyd George, and most of the press were missing. New Labour's spin doctors, usually masters of their art, must have started their carousing early that night for the editors of the leading newspapers of all political hues had been included with the 'VIPs' who had been sent to a distant underground station to await admittance to the temple of Babel. The problem was that they were only admitted after the festivities had passed their orgiastic peak. Officials from Tesco's, Britain's most important supermarket chain, were also in the delayed lot and were particularly furious that they had paid for the tens of thousands of bottles of champagne, but there was not a glass of bubbly for them to drink until they stole some from the displays.
The furore surrounding the delays of the VIPs added venom to the coverage of the Dome's opening. It received a near universal execration in every newspaper. Editors and columnists competed to pour scorn on the costly disaster and the absurd exhibits in the 'zones' within. Since then every writer has continued the assault. Attendance has been way below the expected numbers. A panic response in February by the government saw the replacement of the hapless lady in charge by a Frenchman summoned from Disneyland Paris as, he, we were assured, was the chap who had turned that white elephant into a profitable circus. Predictably his idea was to add some cartoon characters and he even took to importing Hollywood stars such as Superman. This stunt fell to the ground when it was revealed that the Dome, that is to say the taxpayer, had paid for Superman's flight.
The debacle at the Dome has proved to be prophetic. Since that fateful evening, virtually everything has gone wrong for the Blair government. From his stunning landslide victory over the discredited Tories in May 1997, Blair had enjoyed a honeymoon of unparalleled length. His luck became proverbial. Potential 'sleaze' scandals, such as accepting [pounds]1 million bribes from donors who wanted the government's support either to attack fox hunting or to allow some abstruse form of car racing the right to retain tobacco adverts, left not a scratch on the Dear Leader's reputation. He seemed coated with more Teflon than Ronald Reagan.
It remains an unremarked aspect of the Shakespearean tragedy that was the fall of Margaret Thatcher that one factor could be called the zero effect and here I do not refer to her puny Tory assassins. She was identified with the 1980s and when the calendar suddenly turned to 1990, she began to be seen as 'old hat.' One now wonders if the turn from the nineties into a year full of zeros will have the same effect on Blair, who professes to admire her so. …