Cool millennium projects in Old Britannia?

A challenge for new labour

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

23 Pages, Grade: 2,1



I. Introduction

II. Reasons for millennium projects
2.1. Cool Britannia
2.2. Third Way
2.3. Creative Industries

III. Examples of millennium projects
3.1. The dilemma of the Millennium Dome
3.1.1. First ideas for the Dome
3.1.2. The site and architecture Facts on architecture The problem of location The millennium show
3.1.3. Today’s and future use
3.1.4. Possible problems and reasons for the failure
3.2. An example of a successful project
3.2.1. The Eden project

IV. The role of London in Britain’s millennium identity

V. Conclusion

I. Introduction

The turning of the millennium was not only nervously expected by computer experts because of the millennium bug, but it also left its imprint on British political and cultural history. This date in the calendar, 2000 years after the birth of Christ, has offered a unique opportunity to celebrate human achievements and was a good reason to speculate about the future.

This paper wants to discuss the reasons and the role of the millennium projects realised by the Labour government towards the end of the 20th century. Not only has the importance of several economic and social policies shifted with New Labour coming into office in 1997, but the cultural identity and the future of the nation has become priority. Catchphrases like Cool Britannia and Third Way have marked the government’s policies. Cultural outcomes of these ideas were the millennium projects of which some succeeded and some did not. The Millennium Dome with its magnificent architecture and the Eden Project in Cornwall will be discussed as examples for failure and success respectively. Furthermore, this paper will try to explain London’s role in the discussion about the new and cool identity of Britain.

II. Reasons for millennium projects

Marking the millennium, creating something spectacular and remarkable that will be remembered by every British citizen - that was the aim of every one of more than 200 millennium projects across the United Kingdom. Environmental and entertainment projects have been developped according to the concept of Cool Britannia. The following paragraph will explain what this concept is about and what the reactions to it were. Another important policy, called the Third Way, is not directly linked to the topic, but it explains the means, namely the focus on the creative industries, by which Cool Britannia was tried to achieve. Both terms Third Way and creative industries will be discussed in further paragraphs of this chapter.

2.1. Cool Britannia

Regarding the ideology of this concept, Cool Britannia means a modernized image and reputation of Britain as a young and creative nation with a modern culture. New Labour wanted to achieve a modernization of the country’s society and its values with the help of this policy. Cool Britannia should lead the country with selfconfidence into the new millennium.

John Lee, professor at the English Department of the University of Bristol, has found a similarity between the terms Cool Britannia and Rule Britannia, which first appeared in a poem by James Thomson.1 In this case, Rule Britannia refers to the days of the British Empire when Britain had a good reputation in the world. With this lexical similarity in mind, one could claim that Britain wants to regain its glory as an empire, but of course adapted to modern times. Furthermore, John Lee points out that New Labour’s policy suited Cool Britannia because of various aspects. One of these aspects is that, in his eyes, Tony Blair “thinks in imperial ways”.1 One could claim that Britain suffers from the loss of the Empire and that it now wants to recreate a new empire of course by different means than 200 years ago. With the help of a modernized country, New Labour wants to shape a more self-confident society that is excited for the future, and the symbol of a young and recreated nation will be the millennium projects, above all the Millennium Dome.

However, despite all enthusiasm about a fresh and re-energised nation, there are still dangers that come along with such huge prestige projects. Obviously, there is the risk to brand a whole nation with slogans like Cool Britannia and to promise a better future by changing a nation’s identity.2 Especially for British people, the question of identity has always been a very sensitive one. An identity crisis has started with the fall of the British Empire and has continued with national problems of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish identities. Furthermore, British insularity and their reserved involvement in the European Union show that British society fears to loose its very own identity. With this background in mind, it must be a difficult challenge, if not impossible, to motivate such a nation to change parts of their identity into a more modern one.

2.2. Third Way

This chapter will explain the concept of the Third Way very briefly since it leads to a practical realisation of the ideology of Cool Britannia, namely the creative industries. However, it will not be a detailed explanation of this policy since it is only a minor, but nevertheless important step to understand why the creative industries have been focussed on.

Third Way is a concept which was introduced, but not invented in Britain by New Labour since other European countries like France, Sweden and Germany have also adopted this theory.3 Third Way means a combination of economic-centred policy with social-oriented policy. In the case of Britain, it tries to combine economic policies of the Conservatives with the social policies of New Labour. One example would be social inclusion, which means that people at the lower end of society will receive extra support from government in order to integrate them better into society. This aim of social equality is particularly typical of the Labour Party. The means, by which this aim was to be achieved, came from an economic background. In case of this example, the New Deal, an employment program for young people, was introduced. Hence, New Labour realised a social goal by economic means.

Regarding the nation’s turn to the millennium and Cool Britannia, one has to consider arts and culture and their connection to market economy as a focus of attention. Supporting arts and other creative branches of the British economy is an aim that derives from the Labour heritage since it focuses in a way on the living quality and therefore on social responsibility. Moreover, having a closer look on the return of investments in these industries, economizes creativity, which could be linked to a more market-oriented policy. In the following, a definition of creative industries will be given and, furthermore, their boundaries will be explained.

2.3. Creative Industries

“Those industries that have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.”4

This definition of the creative industries is provided by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which was introduced by the Labour government in 1997 in order to deal with arts and creativity as well as education. A central task of this department was, besides the creative industries, the access to arts. The aim was that arts should become economically available to all, i.e. there should not be any entrance fees to museum and other cultural sights.5 Hence, arts were recognized as parts of an economic industry, which refers to the concept of Third Way.

Since the definition focuses on the creation of jobs and wealth by the creative industries, it implies a call for economic thinking in these industries and a market-oriented management. This economisation of creative arts might be criticised by individual artists that want to remain independent and do not want to be commercialised.

Creative Industries include advertising, architecture, art and antiques market, crafts, design, designer fashion, film and video, interactive leisure software, music, performing arts, publishing, software and computer services as well as television and radio.

Statistics show that the creative industries have a considerable impact on UK’s economy. In 2000, the sector generated 7,9 % of Britain’s Gross Domestic Product and, in the three preceding years, it economically grew by 9 % in comparison of the annual growth of 2,8% for the whole economy.6 These figures do not surprise if one knows that Britain is the only country besides USA and Sweden that produces a surplus of exporting copyrights.7 Since copyrights mainly appear in sectors like film, publishing and music, the creative industries contribute to this enormous economic growth. Furthermore the contribution of the creative industries to the Gross Domestic Product is “greater than any manufacturing industry”, which is declining in Britain.8 Hence, the creative industries must be seen as the future major income source for British economy.

Although the need to define this sector of British industry separately from others is obvious, there is a great deal of problems concerning the responsibilities within government institutions and the boundaries of the creative industries. There is an overlap between the cultural industries and the entertainment sector, which is caused by the creative industries and its importance.9 For this reason, the Creative Industry Task Force was founded in order to organise the cooperation between several departments of the government. This group also looks after the economic return of the creative industries through job and wealth creation.

III. Examples of millennium projects

3.1. The dilemma of the Millennium Dome

3.1.1. First ideas for the Dome

The earliest suggestion for a millennium celebration was put forward by the journalist Bevis Hillier in 1989. He wrote a letter to Maggie Thatcher and suggested that it cannot be early enough to start to plan a celebration for the turn of the millennium. Thatcher rejected this suggestion because in her eyes it was far too early to think about a millennium project, but at the same time she asked the director of the Arts Council to put forward a suggestion for a millennium party.10

Under John Major, the whole idea was followed up and he was the one who re-launched the national lottery in order to finance these projects. In some cases, the Millennium Dome is compared to two large exhibitions that were held in London: the Great Exhibition in 1851 and the Festival of Britain in 1951. Considering the architecture of the site of the exhibition in 1951, one can easily notice the similarity of the round shaped buildings and the long steel masts.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

With the election in 1997, Conservatives feared that, in case they won the election, Labour party would not take over the project. Although there was strong


1 Lee, John. Cool Britannia - A Summary Essay. (accessed 19/07/04)

2 Lee, John. Cool Britannia - A Summary Essay. (accessed 19/07/04)

3 Giddens, Anthony. Where Now for New Labour?. Oxford: Polity Press, The Fabian Society, Policy Network and Blackwell, 2002, p. 4.

4 “Department for Culture, Media and Sport” <> (accessed 19/07/04)

5 Seldon, Anthony, ed. The Blair Effect: The Blair Government 1997 - 2001. London: Little, Brown and Co., 2001. p. 540.

6 “British Council” <> (accessed 22/07/04)

7 Medosch, Armin. “Ein Image schlägt zurück.” 14.05.1998. (accessed 19/07/04)

8 Seldon, Anthony, ed. The Blair Effect: The Blair Government 1997 - 2001. London: Little, Brown and Co., 2001. p. 537.

9 “British Council” <> (accessed 22/07/04)

10 Nicolson, Adam. Regeneration: The Story of the Dome. London: HarperCollins, 1999.

Excerpt out of 23 pages


Cool millennium projects in Old Britannia?
A challenge for new labour
Dresden Technical University  (Institut für Anglistik)
Hauptseminar London
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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1042 KB
Cool, Britannia, Hauptseminar, London
Quote paper
Maxi Kirchner (Author), 2004, Cool millennium projects in Old Britannia?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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