Mon, Nov 26, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Tony Blair tells BBC how religion made him a better leader

AP , LONDON

Tony Blair's religious faith was "hugely important" to his 10-year premiership, the former British prime minister said in an interview to be broadcast yesterday.

"If I am honest about it, yes of course it was hugely important," Blair said. "There is no point in me denying it, I happen to have religious conviction. I don't actually think there is anything wrong in having religious conviction -- on the contrary, I think it is a strength for people."

Blair, now an envoy for Middle East peace, said his reluctance to talk about his Christian faith while in office was driven by the fear that voters would see him as "a nutter."

Speaking in a BBC program charting his years in power, the former prime minister said religion allowed him to cope with the pressures of making tough decisions -- like committing British troops to the unpopular war in Iraq.

"To do this, the prime minister's job, properly you need to be able to separate yourself somewhat from the magnitude of the consequences of the decisions you are taking the whole time -- which doesn't mean to say ... that you're insensitive to the magnitude of those consequences or that you don't feel them deeply," he said.

strength

"If you don't have that strength it's difficult to do the job, which is why the job is as much about character and temperament as it is about anything else. For me, having faith was an important part of being able to do that," Blair said.

Blair's trusted former communications director Alistair Campbell told the documentary that the former British leader "does do God in quite a big way," carrying a Bible wherever he traveled and asking his aides to find a church he could attend every Sunday.

Blair explained that while it was normal to speak openly about religious convictions in country's like the US, such discussion is not as palatable in Britain.

"You talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you're a nutter," said Blair, adding that British voters tended to think that religious politicians "go off and sit in the corner and ... commune with the man upstairs and then come back and say, `Right, I've been told the answer and that's it.'"

irreverent

Campbell acknowledged Blair did not fit the image of a typically pious person "because he's pretty irreverent, he swears a fair bit and ... if he sees a very attractive woman his eye will wander and all that stuff. He doesn't look like your classic religious sort of guy."

But those close to him did come to understand how important religion was to him.

"I think his close circle always understood that there was a part of him that was really, really important -- just in the logistical level, wherever you were in the world on a Sunday you had to find a church. On that kind of spiritual level it did inform a lot of what he talked about, what he read ... what he felt was important," Campbell said.

Blair stepped down in June.

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