Every failure is just an opportunity in disguise

As Lord Falconer struggles to portray the mismanaged Dome as a great success, Iain Murray scans the history books for similar bouts of heroic self-delusion

It is now plain that the Millennium Dome was mismanaged from the start – it has squandered millions of public money at the expense of deserving causes, it is full of politically correct claptrap and few people can be bothered to go and see it.

And yet Dome Minister Lord Falconer embarks on a whistle-stop tour of radio and TV stations with the message that the project is a huge success. There is nothing unusual in that, as a glance through the pages of history confirms.

The scene is the Aegean Sea sometime in antiquity. A bedraggled figure, naked save for a few feathers sticking to his scorched skin, drags himself from the waves. A reporter approaches, stylus in hand.

“Mr Icarus?”

“Not exactly. I’m his wraith. He perished out there.”

“So the project was an abject failure?”

“No, not at all. It was a complete success. Just think, we have advanced wax technology by years. We have taken a giant step towards the first solar-powered candle.”

“But you’re dead.”

“True, but that’s to take a narrow perspective. We have just appointed Monsieur Gerbil from Gaul, who by dint of having served for many years as a chariot park attendant at the Parthenon is an unrivalled expert on feathers. Under his inspired leadership, I am confident that we shall soar to new heights, blah, blah…”

November 6, 1605. A dungeon in the Tower of London. A man lies on the rack. He is observed by two large, sweating, masked men stripped to the waist. A reporter approaches.

“Mr Fawkes?”

“That is whom you address.” (Raising his head and spitting out three teeth.)

“Well, that plot was a complete flop.”

“It was most certainly not. It was a resounding success.”

“But both Houses of Parliament are still standing.”

“Look at the bigger picture. Not only have we generated enormous public interest – a veritable publick relations coup – but I am also providing gainful employment for my friends here – Thomas, the master of the thumbscrew, and Darren, His Majesty’s practitioner of the tongs and testical wrench.

“And in due course when I shall be taken from here and hanged, drawn and quartered in a publick place, a great multitude of toothless C2s, Ds and Es shall witness the spectacle at no charge to themselves. And ponder the employment to be created in the home pyrotechnical devices industry for centuries to come, bringing joy to the smiling faces of children the length and breadth of this soon-to-be Catholick Kingdom, blah, blah…”

It is 1666. Mr Thomas Farrinor, baker to Charles II, is standing amid a pile of smouldering ashes in Pudding Lane, London. He is approached by a reporter.

“Well, Mr Farrinor, it would seem that batch of fondant fancies was a complete flop.”

“Nonsense, my boy, it was a huge success.”

“But you left your oven on and started a fire that raged for four days, destroyed four-fifths of London, demolished roughly 13,000 houses, nearly 90 parish churches and 50 livery company halls. In all, an area of more than 430 acres was wrecked and thousands of people were reduced to misery and poverty.”

“You could say that, but look at the bigger picture. At a stroke we’ve cleared the way for a massive inner-city regeneration that will create thousands of new jobs. Even now, Master Wren is working on a major project, which, I am told, will incorporate a dome that shall be the envy of the world, blah, blah…”

The scene is one of lone and level sands in an antique land, empty save for a man with a frown, wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command. A reporter approaches.

“Ozymandias?”

“Call me king of kings.”

“That big monument of yours was a bit of a flop, wasn’t it?”

“Certainly not. It was a success without peer.”

“But all that’s left are two vast and trunkless legs of stone.”

“The body zone, you mean. The Japanese didn’t want those bits. They’re not very big people, you know, the Japanese. But they took the rest, paid a fair price, too.

“And never forget, in its day the edifice was the biggest paid-for attraction in the whole of this antique land, bigger even than the Great Self-inflating Heseltine – bigger, too, than the bottomless Mandelson Serpent Pit. It employed thousands in its construction – some, alas, no longer with us – and regenerated an entire desert.

“A few small mistakes may have been made by the New Ozymandian Experience Company. With hindsight we might have appointed a visitor coercion co-ordination committee. But all in all, it was a triumph, a wise and beneficial use of public money and, of course, a monument to myself. It will be in my next manifesto, blah blah…”

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