There is a word to describe the Dome, beginning with c and ending with p. And it isn't "cheap"

Let nobody deny that there are any stunning experiences at the Millennium Dome. This week, I walked across the almost deserted forecourt and found a ticket booth: "One adult, one 12 year old and one six year old, please," I said. "That'll be fifty-three pounds," the man in the booth replied. That was a heart-stopping moment alright.

As everybody knows, the Dome was built before anybody had thought what was to go inside, and, in a way, they still haven't. The Millennium Show was alright, with Peter Gabriel music and people swinging on trapezes, even though it gets lost in the vast central space. Yet for the rest of the time, this area is totally unused, with people wandering across it, or sitting eating their packed lunches. For the rest, there are just odds and ends scattered around the edge.

What is blindingly obvious is that the government had two choices. Actually it had three. The best option was not to build the Dome at all and turn the space into a park by the river with cafes and playgrounds. Having decided to go ahead, they should have made it a huge prestigious government project. Do it the way they do in France: secure ridiculous amounts of money - probably corruptly, possibly illegally - whatever is necessary to get it right. If something is good enough, then everybody forgets how much it costs. Billy Wilder once commented that nobody ever said: "Oh, let's go and see this movie. I hear it came in under budget." Or else, the government should have handed it over to a theme park company and told them to get on with it. The government seems to have realised this, but giving the Dome to somebody who seems to have been little more than the car park attendant at EuroDisney may not be enough.

People may argue about the features of this zone or that zone - you can play table football here and get your photograph taken with ET there - but the experience seemed to me rather like a trade fair behind the eastern bloc circa 1972. The "Talk" zone consists largely of exhibits showing new products from the sponsor, BT. The "Education" zone consists entirely of a shoddy propaganda film about what a good thing education is.

A couple of vignettes from my day: at lunchtime, I tried to take my children to a cafe that was less than half full. I was told we would have to wait 20 minutes for a table: "We've got to clean the tables first," a waitress explained. "There's only two of us." By some logistical illusion, the Dome was about a third full and yet felt overcrowded - except in the "Faith" zone.

One of the more surprisingly dreadful experiences was the special new Blackadder episode, co-authored by Ben Elton and Richard Curtis. I don't want to be po-faced about this, but I feel like I've spent much of my life being lectured by Elton about how comedy mustn't reinforce stereotypes. Blackadder and Baldrick go back in a time machine and meet a group of men in a forest dressed in green. "Are you Robin Hood?" he asks. "Am I Robin Hood?" says Rik Mayall (for it is he). "Is Will Scarlet a poof in red tights?" Cut to a man making a gesture with his wrist that I last saw done by John Inman in the seventies. Later, when they leave in their time machine, Blackadder smiles and says how friendly Maid Marian was. Baldrick is shifting painfully on his seat: "So was Will Scarlet," he groans. He's been anally raped, you see. It's those poofs. You have to keep your back to them. Is this the culture of pro-gay propaganda everybody's so scared of?

Why is the Dome such crap? I thought of the story of Lord Falconer, boss of the Dome, old flatmate of Tony's, rich lawyer, four children at private school, talking to Millbank advisers about the prospect of getting a safe Labour seat. Couldn't he tell the selection committee that he would have liked to use state education if it had been good enough? It bespeaks a perhaps admirable lack of hypocrisy that he wouldn't make that gesture. He just preferred private education and that was that. I think that shows what he thinks of the rest of us. This hotchpotch of sponsorship, concessions and knocked-up displays was good enough for the proles. We don't know any better. And what's fifty-three pounds nowadays?

At least when the Roman emperors fobbed the population off with bread and circuses, they got to see some Christians torn apart by lions. Big Macs and public information films don't quite hit the spot in the same way.

This article first appeared in the 21 February 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Just wait for the gold rush to end