Blair memoir fails to 'do God'

Following its launch last week, The Journey has been dissected by the media and commentators eager to gain understanding of his views on everything from the war in Iraq to his relationship with Gordon Brown.

For people of faith, in particular Christians, they hoped to discover how his personal beliefs affected his thinking during his years in power. The reader will come away disappointed. God cannot be found in the index.

On the penultimate page of his book, Blair writes, ‘I have always been more interested in religion than politics.’ Elsewhere, he says, ‘I had always been fortunate in having a passion bigger than politics, which is religion,’ yet there is little in almost 700 pages to explain these statements, leading a writer in the Guardian to muse, ‘It is as if Lenin had written an autobiography without mentioning Marx.’

Ahead of publication, Anthony Seldon, the author of Blair and Blair Unbound, wrote in The Daily Telegraph that we need to learn ‘more about the impact of religion on his politics.’

Since leaving office, Tony Blair has made it clear that his faith has been a major part of his life. In November 2007 in an interview with the BBC for The Blair Years, the former Prime Minister said that faith had been ‘hugely important’ to his premiership. He also said he avoided talking about his religious views while in office for fear of being labelled a ‘nutter.’

In December 2007, Blair became a Roman Catholic and in 2008 he set up the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which ‘aims to promote respect and understanding about the world’s major religions and show how faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world.’

The book which the publisher promised would be 'frank, open, revealing’ was an opportunity to discuss that famous quote of his ex-spokesman, Alastair Campbell who famously said, ‘We don’t do God.’

Then there was how his advisers prevented him from ending his address to the nation at the start of hostilities in Iraq with the message: ‘God bless you.’

Blair could also have explained further his comments made in 2006 to chat show host Michael Parkinson about how he had prayed while deciding whether to send troops into Iraq. He said, ‘In the end, there is a judgement that, I think if you have faith about these things, you realise that judgement is made by other people...and if you believe in God, it’s made by God as well.’

The only mention of ‘church’ is when Blair describes a visit to the Black Churches of Britain Conference. He says, ‘It was like a revivalist convention,’ and recalls ‘cavorting shamelessly around the stage like some TV evangelist’ and being ‘fighting drunk on the Lord’s spirit’.

When it comes to policy, Blair does not attempt to explain how his political philosophy is influenced by religious conviction.

On gay rights he writes about the Civil Partnership Act, ‘granting the same rights and responsibilities to same-sex partners as enjoyed by married couples. I was really proud of that.’

He explains, ‘My generation had defined a different paradigm: what you did in your personal life was your choice, but what you did to others was not.’

Ann Widdecombe, has said that Mr Blair’s voting record as an MP had often ‘gone against church teaching’.

‘If you look at Tony Blair’s voting record in the House of Commons, he’s gone against Church teaching on more than one occasion. On things, for example, like abortion,’ she said. ‘My question would be, ‘has he changed his mind on that?’’

The Journey does not attempt to answer any such question.

On politicians' extra marital affairs, Blair says, ‘While I tended to look upon such things with a fairly world eye...I was nevertheless conscious of the fact that the rest of the world viewed it differently.’

On issues of foreign policy, Blair refers to ‘moral questions’ and ‘moral’ issues, but offers no details as to what he means by this and refers to ‘doing the right thing.’

The book has generated record sales, selling 92,060 copies in its first four days on sale according to Nielsen BookScan – the strongest ever opening-week sale of a memoir since their records began in 1998.

It has also caused controversy. More than 11,000 people have joined a group on Facebook called ‘Subversively move Tony Blair’s memoirs to the crime section in book shops’. The book has turned up in various ‘inappropriate sections’ including Horror, Erotic, Crime and Dark Fantasy.

This week, a book launch party due to have been held at the Tate Modern gallery was cancelled by Blair after anti-war campaigners prepared to mount a protest against him. This followed the cancellation of a book signing session at the Waterstone’s book store in London’s Piccadilly.

As a former barrister, Blair’s book represents his witness statement or testimony of his life in Number 10 Downing Street. Based upon this, the reader could be forgiven for thinking that Alastair Campbell was right after all.