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Wednesday, December 23, 1998 Published at 20:26 GMT

UK Politics

Mandelson: Dome alone

Peter Mandelson: Promoted Dome in face of scepticism

Peter Mandelson's resignation means he has also had to give up his position as minister in charge of the Millennium Dome. Media Correspondent Torin Douglas reports.

Peter Mandelson was a strong supporter of the controversial Millennium Dome project at Greenwich - and the accompanying national festival - from the moment Labour took power.

At a time when other Labour ministers wanted to scrap the scheme - and blame the Tory government for letting its costs spiral - Mr Mandelson helped persuade Tony Blair that the Dome could make Britain the focus of world attention at the turn of 2000.

He also saw it as a chance to emulate his grandfather, Herbert Morrison, who had masterminded the successful 1951 Festival of Britain - again in the face of much scepticism.

As Minister without Portfolio, Mr Mandelson held the government's single share in the New Millennium Experience Company, which is running the Dome - and unusually, when he became Trade and Industry Secretary, he held onto the role.

Conflict of interest

The Conservatives said that raised a potential conflict of interest in that he was still trying to drum up commercial sponsorship for the Dome - while his department had to rule on competition matters involving those sponsors, such as British Airways and BSkyB.

Shadow Culture Secretary Peter Ainsworth welcomed Mr Mandelson's departure, saying he had sought to turn the project into a propaganda exercise for New Labour.

Meanwhile Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, will take over as minister in charge of the Dome - but only on a temporary basis. As chairman of the Millennium Commission, which granted £400m of lottery money to the project, he is not allowed to take on the Dome role permanently.

Whoever does take over will have to handle a high-profile, controversial project which must meet a deadline that cannot be moved - 31 December 1999.

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