The Bubble That Tony Built

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If you visit London and follow the Thames a few miles east of the city center, you will see a giant bubble as worthless and discredited as the bubble puffed up not long ago in the investment banks upstream. Britain’s Millennium Dome is now as good a reminder of the facile Utopianism of the fin-de-siècle boom as a safety deposit box filled with Enron share certificates. As the 1990s mania built to its climax, Tony Blair’s New Labor government decided that a great celebration should be held in a purpose-built dome. Neither Blair nor anyone else could say with certainty what was being celebrated (beyond the turning of the millennium) or how whatever it was should be celebrated. They were, however, certain that the Dome would be enormous. As its opening approached, the British were told that the Dome would be able to hold “eighteen thousand double-decker buses,” or “thirteen Albert Halls,” or “3.8 billion pints of beer,” or “the Eiffel Tower on its side.” If you were minded to pick up the Dome, carry it to the Canadian-American border, and place it upside down under Niagara Falls, the PR people said, you would gasp as you checked your watch and saw that it took “ten minutes to fill.”

The brilliant design (by Mike Davies of the Richard Rogers Partnership) passed the sternest test for a new building: it was imprinted on the British popular mind before construction had finished. David Hockney said Davies’s creation would be “most beautiful left empty.” What in retrospect looks like a sensible suggestion was ignored. The Dome needed to be furnished because it had an ambitious task to perform. “The overall purpose of all Millennium activity,” explained New Labor’s special advisers shortly after they reached office,

is to reenergize the Nation. The ultimate aim of the Company, therefore, is to change perceptions, more specifically

• to raise the self-esteem of the individual;
• to engender a sense of pride in the wider community;
• to enhance the world’s view of the Nation.

Note the grandeur of the ambition: The Dome was to be a tonic for a surly public and an instrument of foreign policy. Note, too, the hubristic capital N in Nation at a moment when devolution and poverty, among other forces, undermined national unity. Brussels ran much of domestic policy; Washington directed much of foreign policy; corporate interests dominated Whitehall; and the Blair clique dominated the Labor Party and, by extension, the national Parliament. It was hard not to join those who dismissed the Dome as meretricious, so clueless was the government to the national fragmentation it was presiding over. “What is the Dome for?” asked Jacques Chirac on a visit to Britain. The answer for intellectuals and hacks alike was zilch. The Dome, wrote Ian Sinclair, a London literateur, is a “Disneyland on-message” that had “nothing to do with bemused citizens.”

Yet if you could bring yourself to study it closely the Dome had plenty to say about the condition of the citizens of fin-de-siècle Britain. The most blaring message was the solid continuity between Old Conservatives and New Labor. The Dome and the National Lottery that supported it were the creations of John Major’s Tory government. His peculiar brand of humbug was to invoke Orwell’s decency and national unity while promoting the concentration of unelected power and the commercialization of everyday life that undermined both.

The Dome was built by funds from the Lottery, a tax on the stupid and desperate.

There was nothing New Labor liked less than being accused of carrying on the ancien régime. Major stood for warm maids and old beer; his successors professed to believe in modernity. Yet, as the minutes of cabinet discussions of the Dome show, New Labor’s governing style was monarchical from the start. Soon after taking office, Blair’s cabinet made no secret of its skepticism about the leftover Tory scheme. “[The Dome is] London-based, the objectives are not clear, and it is not durable,” said Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the second most powerful man in the government. “It’s public money, and if anything goes wrong it will all come back to us.” Clare Short, the International Development Minister, was even more prescient: “This will be a political disaster.” But Blair had other ideas. His Clintonian sales pitch in the 1997 election was a new Britain, young, cool, and plugged into the Net. The Dome would symbolize that new Britain, a “young country” ready to dash into the new century with vigor and aplomb.

Blair’s colleagues worried. What was the Dome meant to be? Was it Disney? Was it an expo? A theme park? There were two impressive precedents. The Great Exhibition of 1851 told the world of the benevolent possibilities of science and manufacturing. A century later, the Festival of Britain reflected the optimism and solidarity of the generation which survived the Second World War. But what did deindustrializing Britain have to tell the world—or itself—at the turn of the millennium? Michael Grade, one of several media grandees co-opted to advise on the Domes contents, handled the question with a convenient postmodern cop-out. The Dome wasn’t trying to achieve anything, he replied; there was no message delivered from above for the public to understand. Top-down elitist sermons from a patronizing and paternalistic past had been discarded. “In 1851 and 1951 the great and the good created wonderful tableaux, then lifted the curtain and allowed the great unwashed to have a peep at how great their leaders were,” he sneered, showing a frankly elitist contempt for his wiser predecessors.

This show is different. Here it is the people themselves who are the focus. It says: “Think about your own life.” The people are in charge. They can make their own mistakes. They are not being told what to be or how to act. What the Dome is saying to them is: “Here you are, folks. Here are the choices. You decide.”

Grade was trapped in the mentality of the capitalist bubble of the nineties. The peculiar cant of the times held that the new economic order—in which wage inequality surpassed all hitherto recorded extremes—actually empowered the unwashed. The patter worked well in the media businesses. Grade, as head of Channel 4, and his contemporaries at the BBC, could abandon the standards of public service broadcasting by posing as democrats who gave the public what it wanted. The conceit was infectious. Grade couldn’t stop pretending to himself and others that he was freeing the masses rather than wasting their time and money. (“The folks,” had they been consulted, might have spent the money on hospitals, or parks, or to replace flogged-off school playing fields, or on anything that might have lasted.) In spite of their pseudodemocratic language of antielitism, the Dome’s apologists couldn’t hide the fact that the project was as hierarchical as any from the discredited past. As it happens, the Dome was built by funds from the Lottery, a tax on the stupid and desperate. If financing had been left to the private sector, there would have been no exhibition.

But Michael Heseltine, John Major’s deputy Prime Minister, and then Peter Mandelson, Blair’s favorite minister, were determined to draw in business nonetheless. Their motives were ideological. The lottery might have provided the necessary funds, but Tories and Blairites agreed that nothing is worth having without corporate sponsorship. So Dome zones were designed expressly for the private sector. British Telecom said it would help only if its corporate image was enhanced. Exhibits on the theme of “talking” were promised to please it. Adrian Horsford, the company’s sponsorship director, explained his control of the national showcase thus: “When the Talk Zone opened there were some things we were not happy with, but we put those right. We were quite closely involved with the development.” The Corporation of London, a rotten borough that represents City bankers rather than Londoners, was given a space called the “Transaction Zone.” The name was later changed to the brutally simple “Money,” a tide the crassest of agitprop revolutionaries couldn’t have bettered. Other companies were more subtle. “A highlight of the Dome,” explained the administrators in October 1999, “will be the McDonald’s Our Town Story, where for 210 days people will perform and exhibit their town’s past, present, and future.” Our Town Theatre was the one genuinely national corner of the exhibition. Every school was invited to produce a play. The best won the right to perform their work in the Dome. Oddly, no civil servant or minister worried that the direction of what might have been a touching exploration of local histories was passed to an American multinational. (McDonald’s spent the 1990s trying to silence the protests of two green activists with an incredibly disproportionate claim for damages in a libel action. At the end of the longest trial in British history, Mr. Justice Bell ruled that the evidence he had heard amply substantiated the activists’ claim that the company targeted “susceptible young children to bring in custom, both their own and that of their parents.”)

Blair dropped all his party’s nonsense about freedom of the press.

Once Blair decided the Dome must be raised, Labor politicians silenced their doubts and pretended to agree with him. But Britain’s fearlessly independent press could not be silenced. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun attacked the Dome for wasting public money that might be better spent on the National Health Service. The government was horrified. It had wooed Murdoch’s NewsCorp with the eagerness of a fortune-hunting hussy chasing a filthy-rich old man, and Blair thought the engagement had been announced. A modus vivendi had been established: New Labor would do nothing to stop the expansion of Murdoch’s business interests. Murdoch would instruct his Tory journalists to toe the New Labor line. Andrew Neil, a former editor of Murdoch’s Sunday Times, recalled for the Observer how the courtship began. Blair told him, “How we treat Murdoch’s media interests when we are in power depends on how his newspapers treat the Labor Party in the run up to the election and after we are in government.” Murdoch noticed Blair’s arousal. He responded in Der Spiegel with, “I could even imagine myself supporting the British Labor leader, Tony Blair.” Blair registered the come-hither look and began to exert himself. In July 1995 he made a fifty-hour round trip so he could address Murdoch and his editors at a NewsCorp “leadership conference” in Australia.

The Blair-Murdoch nuptials were key to the fortunes of New Labor. In years past, the Murdoch press had smeared Labor candidate Michael Foot with the vile and ludicrous accusation that he was a KGB “agent of influence” and had then been forced to issue an expensive apology. Neil Kinnock, Foot’s successor, was traduced daily. Foot and Kinnock were threats to media monopolists. Blair, on the other hand, flew across the world to assure Murdoch that his Labor party was submissive—it would be whatever NewsCorp wanted it to be. The party had embraced the market, Blair told the assembled execs, because “the old solutions of rigid economic planning and state control won’t work.”

In Utopian capitalist theory, markets are the enemies of rigidity because, thanks to competition, firms that don’t bend to the desires of the consumer disappear. But in capitalist practice—and this, really, is basic stuff which even the leaders of New Labor ought to have been able to get their heads around by the age of thirteen, or, tops, fifteen—competition also ensures that capitalism tends to rigid monopoly. Successful companies wipe out existing rivals and have the resources to stifle fresh competitors at birth. In its 1992 election manifesto, Labor (as it then was) recognized that media conglomerates poisoned free societies. A handful of companies must not be allowed to limit democratic debate, it said, by buying up and closing down the platforms for dissenting voices. Labor promised, “We will safeguard press freedom [and] establish an urgent inquiry by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into the concentration of media ownership.” Nowhere was ownership more concentrated than in the hands of Rupert Murdoch. He controlled the Sun, the News of the World, the Times, the Sunday Times, and the BSkyB satellite network. The latter held the greatest potential. Murdoch had the enticing possibility that he could own the satellites that delivered television to Britain and, by extension, decide which channels should be broadcast. He had proved already that he was happy to use the ownership of satellites to censor if his profits were threatened. Murdoch closed BBC World Service TV broadcasts to Asia from his Star satellite. The BBC’s honest reporting on China had to be silenced because it was embarrassing China’s market-Leninist dictatorship, whose goodwill Murdoch needed if he was to be free to milk a billion Chinese consumers.

Blair dropped all his party’s nonsense about freedom of the press and breaking up monopolies, and in 1995 took New Labor (as it had become) way to the right of the Tories. To the slight surprise of those who thought the Labor movement still had a purpose to it, Blair condemned the Conservative government for trying to tighten the regulations on limiting the ownership of TV stations by newspaper magnates. His complaint was not that the Tories had failed to go far enough, but that they had gone too far. New Labor was now closer to Murdoch than the aging brute’s old Tory friends. In its conferences, its revolving door for corporate types, and its fake populist style, Blairism was “sticky with Murdoch,” an old Laborite told me who became sick of the prostitution of a party she had served all her life. Murdoch was delighted. Intelligent right-wingers knew the Tories couldn’t stay in power forever. What was essential was that conservatism continued when Conservative governments fell. Blair promised regime change without a change in the regime’s policies. The Tories, the Sun said in the run-up to the 1997 election, were “tired, divided, and rudderless.” The British needed “a leader with vision, purpose and courage who can inspire them and fire their imagination. The Sun believes that man is Tony Blair.”

The relationship had been consummated with more love than is usual in these encounters. The Dome, however, wasn’t a guest at the wedding. Its managers feared that it had become a zone of licensed bickering on a par with the European Union or fair treatment of homosexuals. Conservative journalists who had submitted to the change in line without a resignation were to be allowed a little fun at its expense. How could Murdoch be persuaded to muzzle his yapping dogs? His family suggested an answer.

“The Dome has all the makings of the biggest white elephant ever. What a terrible monument to the human ego.”

The fiercely meritocratic Murdoch, who had spent his life laying into the nepotism of the old British establishment, had recently made a brilliant business decision about the management of BSkyB. The entrepreneur discovered that the most qualified person to fill the post of general manager (broadcasting) was his own daughter, Elisabeth. The Murdoch sprog was stepping out with Matthew Freud, a PR man on the Dome’s executive committee. By mid-February 1998, the Sun’s criticisms had become savage, and much of the rest of the press was following its lead. Freud knew what he had to do. “I talked to Liz about it,” he recalled, “and then had a few minutes with Murdoch in L.A.” Murdoch was won over by his daughter’s intended. He promised Freud he would give the Dome £12 million in sponsorship on the serendipitous grounds that he and Her Majesty’s Government were both in the entertainment business.

Freud then savored “the nicest call I’ve ever made.” He rang Rebekah Wade, the Sun’s deputy editor and told her the Dome was now the Murdoch family’s pet project. “You may be interested to know,” he began. “Oh fuck!” Wade cried, and then produced an inspiring display of editorial independence by executing a swift “reverse ferret,” as U-turns are known at the Sun.[*] On January 12, 1998, just before Freud lobbied Murdoch, the Sun thundered: “This waste of public money should be axed, for that’s what public opinion wants . . . . That damned Dome has disaster written all over it.” Five days later, it returned to its theme. “The Dome has all the makings of the biggest white elephant ever. What a terrible monument to the human ego.” But on February 23, just after Freud charmed Murdoch, the Sun’s thunder disappeared as fast as a summer storm. “There is beginning to be an air of excitement about the Millennium Experience,” it noted with enthusiasm. In the past the Sun had been its “fiercest critic,” but now it realized that “griping about it will achieve nothing. Instead we should all get behind it and ensure it is a success.” Murdoch made the compliant Wade editor of the News of the World shortly afterwards, and of the Sun in 2003. Every good girl deserves a favor.

Murdoch was as jarring a choice as McDonald’s as a sponsor for Britain’s national celebration. He’s an Australian who became an American. His British media interests have paid virtually no corporation tax since 1987, for all their affected concern for the underfunded National Health Service. The Murdoch press made profits of about £1.3 billion between 1987 and 2002. It is impossible to be precise, but the Observer calculated that if corporation tax had been paid at prevailing rates, the Inland Revenue would have collected about £250 million—enough for seven new hospitals and two hundred new primary schools. As with McDonald’s, no one in authority wanted to dwell on the unhelpful detail. Later, when the Dome’s failures became too well known for even the Sun to cover up, the Murdoch papers reversed the reversal of the ferret and went for the Dome for wasting the public funds to which they did not contribute. (And proved, once again, that governments can’t buy Murdoch—they can merely rent him.)

The creepy relations between the Dome and global capitalism implied that it was little more than an easy vindication of the Marxist theory that the economic base determines the cultural superstructure. In truth, neither Marxist materialism nor any other philosophy that relies on intelligible links between cause and effect could account for all of its contents. Many slipped their moorings to reason and floated away on a giddy swell. The exhibitions of 1851 and 1951 allowed industry to display inventions that would transform the spectators’ lives. The Dome’s attempt to revive the energy of the past in deindustrialized Britain descended into absurdity as raddled mutton was dressed and redressed. New Labor allowed the public a preview of the Dome contents in 1998 when it unveiled powerhouse::uk [sic]. The powerhouse was four giant interlinked drums with inflatable walls, which were plonked in Horse Guards Parade. Architects explained that the designers had chosen a “pneumatic inflatable structure” because “its transient and dynamic nature” contrasted with “the formality of the traditional government buildings” in Whitehall. Among the exhibits shown to visiting heads of state were an orthopedic overshoe for cattle and a device for trapping cockroaches in talcum powder.

Maybe the organizers looked at these unnerving innovations and realized that new technology wouldn’t do, or maybe not. For whatever reason, they filled the void in the Dome with images of insipid concern and pain-free dissent rather than the triumphs of British manufacturing. The Learning Zone presented a rotating video wall in which a huge library turned into a forest and back again. Whether visitors were meant to worry about the loss of woodland to the publishing industry, or celebrate the transformation of timber into knowledge, or nod and move on, or nod off for that matter, was as unclear to the viewer as it was, presumably, to the designers. A mock-up of a Victorian amusement park promised traditional fun for all the family. Its old-time movie machines, though, presented images of environmental decay. No one could explain the connection. The Dome’s official historian came closest when he revealed that the creators of the amusement park were drunk when inspiration hit them.

Faith Zone, like all the other zones, had to have a business sponsor because everyone agreed that the market was great and good.

The Mind Zone was meant to be filled with Britart from the Watersports School. But in one of their better decisions, the sponsors rejected “Piss Flowers” by Helen Chadwick, a series of bronze moulds the artist took in Canada from cavities left after she peed in the snow. Her holes were replaced by an enormous Perspex case filled with tens of thousands of leaf-cutter ants. The designers claimed that they symbolized “communal, instinctive minds, working together, carrying bright flecks of leaf along paths designed to resemble the tracks of a silicon chip.” And what, at the height of the dot-com bubble, could be more fitting than a celebration in the Dome of the miraculous chips? In their native South America, leaf-cutter ants are better known for their appetites than their symbolic representation of the Internet. Each ant can carry five hundred times its body weight in chopped leaves. About a million live in each colony. When they get hungry, they march in unstoppable columns. The ant armies strip trees in the rain forest and munch their way through the crops of destitute peasants—an apt representation of the regimented style of the New Labor administration, as it happens.

The Dome’s star turn, however, was “Spirit Level,” a celebration of something most Britons care nothing about: religion. The few who did, however, were in power and willing to believe in anything and everything. The Dome was to show that twenty-first century religion retained all of its irrational power. Bishops began to complain that there was a God-shaped hole in the Dome which must be filled, and Blair’s underlings knew that the Prime Minister was obsessed with traditional religions, while his wife would go along with the promotion of any superstition, however potty.[**] A zone called “Soul” was designed by Eva Jiricna to appease them. Like the First Lady, Jiricna had a penchant for pyramids. Hers was to have a smoky-glass exterior that reflected all that was going on around it. Inside the visitor was to be confronted with white walls and bright lights. The space under the floor’s toughened-glass tiles would be flooded so the punters would feel they were walking on water. Simple benches were to line the walls. These would encourage visitors, Jiricna explained, to “holds hands and think what they have in common rather than look at historic clues to what went wrong.” The minimalist interior would be “a contemplative space” which rejected established faiths because, the designer elaborated, “to me religion is dogma . . . . Religion often cuts off other people’s wings. And people, or at least their souls, want to fly. If you don’t want war on your hands, you have to rise above religion.”

Poor soppy Eva didn’t stand a chance. She had a war on her hands—a war she could only lose. Jennie Page, chief executive of the New Millennium Experience Company, was having none of this New Age tosh. She was a regular churchgoer herself and, in any case, knew that Downing Street, Buckingham and Lambeth Palaces, the Tory Party, and the Daily Telegraph wanted traditional religion, too. “It was clear to me from Day One that we needed to accommodate dogma,” said Page. “Soul” was first renamed “Spirit Level” and then “The Faith Zone.” The top of Jiricna’s pyramid was snipped off. Minimalism was forgotten as all kinds of knickknacks were bunged into her pure space. Prince Charles, next at bat as Defender of the Faith, was determined that the Dome should affirm “the essential unity of religion and the commonality of core values essential for sane, balanced, and responsible living in any age.” Page bent her knee to the twittering royal. She ordered that “The Faith Zone” (formerly “Soul” and “Spirit Level”) should be re-rechistened “Faith Zone.” The definite article was purged, we were told, because the “the” was thought to imply that there was one faith, established Anglicanism, which was more important than the others, Judaism, Islam, Zorastrianism and the like. The dogma the Dome had a place for was therefore the ecumenical dogma that all established faiths were kind of one.

Twiddling with titles could not distract Peter Mandelson, the minister in charge, from his real problem. Faith Zone, like all the other zones, had to have a business sponsor because everyone agreed that the market was great and good. But no business could see the competitive advantage in consorting with religion in a godless land. One Dome manager confessed to praying before bedtime to the Good Lord for a capitalist to save him. Salvation came in the form of the Hinduja brothers. They were, obviously, Hindus. But Srichand Hinduja said he was with Charles Windsor and believed in the “shared values of each faith.” He wanted the Dome to recognize that the human race must sow the seeds for “peace development and cooperation.”

Interesting sentiments, given the lines of business Srichand and his family were in. As with so many other billionaires’ piles, it was difficult to pin down the origins of the Hindujas’ wealth with precision. The brothers—Srichand and Gopichand in London, Prakash in Geneva, and Ashok in Bombay—were the sons of Paramand Hinduja, a Hindu who fled Pakistan to escape the slaughter in the faith-zones of partition. He died in 1971, leaving his sons $1 million and some land in Iran. The boys turned their relatively modest inheritance into a fortune. They supplied prerevolutionary Iran with Bollywood films and India with Iranian crude oil. They owned 40 percent of Ashok Leyland, the Indian truck maker and had the rights to market the Gulf Oil brand outside Britain. But first and foremost the brothers were financiers and traders in India, Europe, the Gulf, and the United States. Weapons deals plumped their portfolio. They represented Bofors, the Swedish armaments combine, in Iran and India, and negotiated the sale of German submarines to the Indian Navy.

Although the Sunday Times Rich List had Srichand and Gopichand as the joint eighth richest people in Britain in 1999, the title was misleading in several respects. London was Srichand’s and Gopichand’s base. They had a home in Carlton House Terrace, a short carriage ride from Buckingham Palace, and an office round the corner in Haymarket. But their wealth was based overseas, as was the employment it sustained. They had no significant investments in Britain.

The booze may have been pitiful and the company atrocious, but the grumpiest partygoer couldn’t object when they were invited to sign the “Hinduja Pledge.”

If all this makes Gopichand and Srichand sound suspect, they didn’t appear that way to the Westminster village. They were ascetics as adept as any Blairite at delivering the concerned platitudes of the pious. They shared their fortunes in common; they rejected alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine (yes, yes, fine, I accept this isn’t a strong point for the defense); and they gave generously to charities on three continents through the Hinduja Foundation. I saw them at a diplomatic reception, and they were polite and keen to meet new people, particularly if the new person in the room was a politician. The brothers knew George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton. The Queen condescended to make their acquaintance. They graced Conservative fundraising parties for Margaret Thatcher, John Major, and Edward Heath, before finding, along with many other rich men, that the transition from Conservative to Labor could be profitable and painless. The Hindujas and the new government were all over each other. Stephen Byers visited them to discuss joint ventures between India and Powergen when he was trade secretary. Patricia Hewitt, the e-commerce minister, popped into their mansion in Bombay when she was on an official visit to India. Clare Short, Chris Smith, and Robin Cook all listened respectfully to their advice. But it was Mandelson who needed them most and knew them best. “I asked, can we do something in the Dome?” Srichand said in 1999, explaining the Hinduja’s offer of £1 million to underwrite the costs of Faith Zone. “Mandelson started coming to our functions and receptions. He is sharp, decisive, and has a good grasp of the issues. Every businessman likes politicians like that.”

Much of the promised money was never spent. Once the free tickets for corporate entertaining and the tax advantages were deducted, the Hindujas’ outlay was about £350,000. The same phenomenon could be seen elsewhere in the Dome. In the first of a series of progressively more incredulous and alarmed reports, the National Audit Office estimated that the Dome was £45 million short of its sponsorship target. The gap had to be plugged by yet more Lottery grants.

Nevertheless, the Hindujas’ help made the best of an embarrassing situation, and the government showed its gratitude on the night of November 3, 1999. The Prime Minister and his wife joined Mandelson, Charles Kennedy, Jeffrey Archer and three thousand other guests at a Hinduja Diwali party at Alexandra Palace. Mrs. Blair was dressed to ingratiate. She wore an orange and white silk churidar kameez—a sari-style wrap covered by a puff-sleeved jacket—and a jewel on her forehead. Srichand’s daughter picked the costume from the collection of Nita Lulla, one of the best British Indian designers. Distinguished guests applauded the Hindujas for their broadmindedness and philanthropy. Lowlier souls moaned. “Everyone around me thought it was bit tacky,” Zia Sardar, a friend at the bash, told me later. “The place was heaving and we were left parched and struggling to get a drink. David Frost came on and made a few bad jokes. Blair made a speech I’ve heard him give to ethnic minorities before. Cherie’s dress was too flashily Bollywood.” The booze may have been pitiful and the company atrocious, but the grumpiest partygoer couldn’t object when they were invited to sign the “Hinduja Pledge.” The assembled revelers solemnly bound themselves to strive for tolerance and peace in the next century. Who could object to such a well-meaning, if somewhat saccharine, sentiment? If the Dome was about anything, wasn’t tolerance and peace its ambition?

Srichand thought so. He said he was happy to support the ecumenical mission statement of Faith Zone because, “I don’t agree when we talk about Hindus or Christians, because we are all human beings. It’s only which faith people follow that has created differences between us.” His analysis was too narrow. To be picky, there’s not only faith. The struggles for temporal power—and for control of the weapons that secure it—have their part in creating differences.

As the world was soon to find out.


[*]In How the Emperor Got His Clothes (Crown Business, 2002), Neil Chenoweth explains: “Kelvin McKenzie, probably the world’s greatest tabloid editor (certainly the most obnoxious), used to stalk the newsroom [of the Sun] urging his reporters generally to annoy the powers that be, to ‘put a ferret up their trousers.’ He would do this until the moment it became dear that in the course of making up stories, inventing quotes, invading people’s privacy and stepping on toes, the Sun had committed some truly hideous solecism—like running the wrong lottery numbers—when he would rush back to the newsroom shouting, ‘Reverse ferret!’ This is the survival moment, when a tabloid changes course in a blink without any reduction in speed, volume, or moral outrage.”

[**]It wasn’t until the Dome had closed that the public began to realize how nutty the Blairs’ religion was. Cherie Blair’s Catholicism and Tony Blair’s Anglo-Catholicism and interest in Islam were gateways to a spirit world in which paganism, Ouija board tapping, pseudo-science, and New Age quackery went along with more traditional smells and bells. The Times was the first to shine a light on their mysteries when it broke the story of what the Blairs did during their stay at the Maroma Hotel, a pricey retreat on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. The terrifying tale begins with Mrs. Blair taking her husband by the hand and leading him along the beach to a “Temazcal,” a steam bath based on an allegedly Aztec design, which was enclosed in a brick pyramid. It was dusk and they had stripped down to their swimming costumes. Inside, they met Nancy Aguilar, a New Age therapist. She told them the pyramid was a womb in which they would be reborn. The Blairs became one with “Mother Earth.” They saw the shapes of phantom animals in the steam and experienced “inner-feelings and visions.” As they smeared each other with melon, papaya, and mud from the jungle, they confronted their fears and emitted a primal scream. The joyous agonies of “rebirth” were upon them. The ceremony over, the prime minister and first lady waded into the sea and cleaned themselves up as best they could.

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