Blair's Faith and Future

Article excerpt

TONY BLAIR IS NOW ENJOYING his first few weeks as a private citizen. At 54 he is far too young, energetic, and idealistic to retire. So what will he do with his new life as an ex-prime minister? The plurality and diversity of rumored occupations for him are a clear indication that he has not yet made up his mind. However, there is one certainty about his future plans-his faith will be central to them.

Blair is a committed Christian believer, but the faith dimension in his life has largely been kept under wraps by the conventions and pressures of the premiership. This is because British politics are far more secular at all levels than in the US. The best, or perhaps worst, example of this secularism came on the eve of the Iraq war when Blair was about to deliver a prime ministerial broadcast to the nation. In the script, which he had written in his own hand, his broadcast ended with the words "God Bless You All." Such a conclusion would be normal in America. In Britain it was judged to be unacceptable, at least by Blair's domineering press secretary, Alistair Campbell, who crossed out the final sentence saying, "We don't do God." The prime minister meekly complied with his subordinate, and God went unmentioned in the actual broadcast.

In fact, Blair had been thinking a great deal about God during the runup to the Iraq war. One of his closest colleagues revealed at the time that the prime minister was "always talking about theology" in the weeks before the invasion and that "he kept on reading and re-reading Augustine's doctrine of the Just War as well as commentaries on the Koran."

This came as no great surprise to well-informed Blair-watchers, because his interest in interfaith theological writings had long been known to people in his circle. However, what has stayed unknown is how he puts his theology into practice. Does he pray, for example? A senior BBC television interviewer, Jeremy Paxman, once asked him in a live broadcast if he had ever prayed with George W. Bush. "Of course not," replied Blair in an exasperated tone of derision.

Why the UK prime minister should have dismissed the notion of saying a prayer with the U.S. president quite so contemptuously is baffling. Many friendly observers might have thought that the two world leaders with a strong Christian faith would find it natural to share a word of private prayer together on the eve of hostilities. Blair's defensiveness on this subject may have sprung from a wish to avoid ridicule from his predominantly pagan Labour Party supporters.

Blair's Christian zeal has been much mocked in the British media. The satirical magazine Private Eye started the trend ten years ago with its long-running column "St. Albion Parish News-Incumbent The Rev A R P Blair M.A. (Oxon)." Written in the style of an ultra-cheesy Church of England vicar, "St. Albion Parish News" rarely fails to amuse even if the jokes can sometimes be cruel. In the week Blair announced his resignation, Private Eye ran a "Time for Prayer" box at the end of the St. Albion newsletter featuring a hands-clasped Cherie Blair surrounded by a golden halo with the caption: "As Cherie looks forward to the vicar's retirement we all join her in praying that the vicar may be blessed with a great deal of money. As she puts it, 'Let US. pay!!!'"

These jibes, of which there have recently been many, imply that both Blairs are Mammon worshippers with an eye to the main chance in America. Tony will soon be following in Bill Clinton's well-heeled footsteps, say the cynics, making megabucks on the U.S. lecture circuit and accepting giant consultancy fees from corporations. Add to these rich pickings a multimillion-dollar memoirs deal from Rupert Murdoch and Blair's coffers will soon be overflowing.

The cynics may be right up to a point, for Mr. and Mrs. Blair's are reported to have mortgage debts in excess of $6 million on their new London home on the edge of Hyde Park. But that deficit will not take long to eradicate. …