Tuesday 21 April 2009

The PM who would rather have been Pope

Those who have found the comfort of religious faith often speak of the moment of revelation when it all suddenly made sense – and I finally understand what they are talking about.

My lightning bolt of comprehension struck at about 6.20 on Sunday evening, as I was driving out of Alnwick tip – sorry, household waste recycling centre – and Radio 4 aired a programme about Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation. The most electorally successful Prime Minister of my lifetime, whose chief adviser insisted that “we don’t do God”, suddenly announced “I'm really and always have been in a way more interested in religion than politics.” A statement so astonishing that I have just checked it on the BBC website to ensure that I was not hallucinating.

True, there were hints of this before, notably in the 2006 interview with Michael Parkinson in which Mr Blair announced his belief that God would judge him for his actions in Iraq. Which will be a moment to savour, if he turns out to be correct.

But now I finally got it. Not just the wrongness of that war, but the destruction of the Union between England and Scotland, the vandalism of the House of Lords, the hundreds of hours wasted on the unenforceable foxhunting ban, the widening gap between rich and poor and the overarching failure to use his massive Parliamentary majority to do anything much for the mugs who kept voting him in.

None of this was based on stupidity or malice, as I had always assumed, but simply on the fact that the Prime Minister’s mind was on higher things. The poor soul cannot even have derived much consolation from such duties as the selection of bishops, since his adherence to the Church of England turns out to have been a mere political convenience, swiftly ditched when he left office and felt free to turn to Rome.

It is, of course, a truly splendid joke that one of the world’s most secular societies should have been led for a decade by a closet religious “nutter” (as he feared being described), but it is also profoundly wrong. Not in the fact, but in the concealment of it. Those who stand for office should be open about their beliefs and aims. Church of England clergy are currently barred from standing for Parliament, along with felons and lunatics (though quite a few of those seem to have slipped through the net). This ban should be lifted forthwith and those who fancy a vicar as their MP should be free to vote for it.

Indeed, we should be allowed to choose absolutely anyone we like so long as they have a respectable amount of experience of life and work. Surely the most grotesque thing about the controversy over the selection of the new Labour candidate for Erith and Thamesmead is not the fact that the apparent front-runner, Georgia Gould, is the daughter of Labour’s focus group guru Lord Gould; it is that she is a mere 22 years old. We have apparently reverted to the days before Lord Grey’s Great Reform Act, when rotten boroughs were routinely handed to unemployable young aristocrats.

I sincerely hope that Mr Blair’s confession will count against him as he lobbies for his next big job as President of Europe (a post whose creation is speeding down the track despite the technical inconvenience of the Irish refusing to ratify the necessary treaty). Sadly his wife and four children will count against him in any application for the perhaps more appropriate position of Pope.

Meanwhile I wait eagerly for news of what Gordon Brown was really more interested in during his long years in charge of the British economy. The bad news is that we will presumably have to wait until he leaves office to find out. And the good news: not long now.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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