Should Tony Blair have owned up as PM?

Fascinating how Tony Blair has attracted so much attention for coming out as a (Roman) Catholic in such a supposedly secular society as England, even a year after the event. Is there a hint there of the primeval C16 and C17 English fear of undeclared foreign influences? Why did he not convert while PM? Because he was worried about all the “palaver” he says. Maybe, but not from an obvious quarter in recent years at least.

Tony Blair has forged a special bond with the Rev Ian Paisley, the DUP leader who holds the future of the Northern Ireland peace process in his hands, by discussing their common interest in and commitment to Christianity.

Spearheading a government charm offensive to win round the one time Presbyterian firebrand, the two men have been swapping religious textbooks over the past year.

But Blair a “ secret” Catholic? You could have fooled me. Remember him smarting when the saintly Cardinal Hume banned him

from taking communion?.

Mr Blair promised to stop receiving Communion at the Church of St Joan of Arc if his presence there caused a problem for the Catholic authorities. But he made clear that he did not agree with the decision in a pointed letter to Cardinal Hume which said: “I wonder what Jesus would have made of it”.

The religious blog Cranmer attacks Blair along predictable lines. How Catholic, Christian, even was this political record?

By their fruits ye shall know them.

Abortion, the Iraq war, attacks upon faith schools, the closure of Catholic adoption agencies, iniquitous embryology and fertilisation legislation, civil partnerships, decreasing marriage tax breaks, ‘equality’ and sexual orientation regulations…

The Cranmer post then veers to the surreal.

Does he really believe it would have been more of a ‘palaver’ for him to cross the Tiber than it was for him to appoint such an ‘out’ contingent of homosexuals to ministerial rank, leaving the nation not only bemused by the number of Scots running England but increasingly persuaded that heterosexuality was becoming distinctly passé?

Gays and Scots – whatever next? Blair recently presented a very social and political vision of his religion to Newsweek: in an article entitled ” Tony Blair’s Dual Identity” (there’s that suggestion of slightly suspect secrecy again).

We have an obligation to present spiritual faith as something that is positive and progressive and solves problems and does good, rather than something that people only read about because people are killing in the name of it.”

In Sunday’s TV interview, Tony Blair insisted that his conversion to Roman Catholicism was not a rejection of the Church of England. As Prime Minister he fulfilled the Prime Minister’s residual obligation to approve senior Church of England appointments. It was left to that son of the manse, Gordon Brown to dispense with that role. But then we know what Press buttons bees have thought about Anglicanism since Jenny Geddes. The RCs are much softer.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London