A-Tone-ment?

A re-emphasis on the common good has been progressed with fair points made by Cath Ennis on the analogy between unwanted cigarette smoke and objectionable religious and atheist pontification. Taking this further into a discussion on the relative benefits/costs to individuals/society, and the right balance between Draconianism and individual civil liberties, necessitates a great deal of qualification in order to prevent points being misconstrued. Nevertheless, we can’t stick our heads in the sand; and I was drawn back to this by Tony Blair’s speech last Thursday, launching his new ‘Faith Foundation’. What exactly is he up to?

I voted for Blair in ’97; I’ve benefited from his government’s increased support for science, which included making the UK perhaps the most attitudinally progressive on human embryonic stem cell research. All fine and dandy. He has, however, long had a strong faith conviction that, by his own admission, informed his justification for war. Perhaps he was always uncomfortable with the hESC/’cloning’ issue, but nevertheless backed an opportunity to make the UK a major player, acceding to the wants of the majority of his constituents, the cabinet and parliament (a consideration for those ‘ministers of conscience’ who, even though the updated HFEA bill has been in progress for months, have only recently piped up after a prod from the bishops). We know more of Cabinet machinations today than ever, but we won’t know everything. Did he perhaps (I’m throwing seeds here) demand some kind of quid pro quo when he was desperate for backing for the war and getting a knuckle-rapping from JP II?

It’s not that Blair (fascinatingly, the son of an atheist) is religious; he is deeply religious. And, having converted to Catholicism, he will be studiously ‘aware’ of The Vatican’s position on things. As such, from a scientific perspective, it would be interesting to know where he is now on abortion and hESC research. He’s entitled to his opinions, and he’s entitled to change his mind (if he has). Ever the diplomat, however, he refuses to discuss this issue. So, we can’t know whether he now holds the view of a Vatican big cheese that Catholics who work in this field should be excommunicated ; or what he thinks of his buddy Bush’s implication that hESC researchers are murderers. It would be awfully useful to know. We can’t say it doesn’t matter what he thinks because he’s not an MP anymore, when he is publicly endorsing a role for religion in politics. He is still an important man who carries clout.

“There is no conceivable way that it (faith) wouldn’t affect your politics,” he said. Wo-ahh! Hang on there a second. It is inconceivable that faith might conflict with the wishes of the majority of the people he was in office to represent. I’ve no doubt that Blair is a principled man. I also think he’s a troubled one trying to make himself feel better. Either way, he’s blowing smoke in our faces.

7 responses to “A-Tone-ment?

  1. I used to be indecisive on this … but now I’m not so sure. I agree with you that Tony Blair, whatever his fault, and they may be many, is a principled man – and also a consummate politician. Whether or not one’s faith affects one’s politics is an open question, even when one denies that it does, but the fact that Blair was so supportive of stem-cell research counts for something. As you say, the fact that some MPs have been allowed to follow their private consciences on public legislation is disgraceful, in my view, when they are elected to represent their constituents, not themselves.

  2. Hear, hear. It is a betrayal of representative democracy to vote with your conscience solely. Given what Henry has alluded to, however, I confess to a niggling doubt that the Blair we are seeing now is any more real than the model we had before. Is it possible that this, too, is a display?

  3. I’d say it is similarly a betrayal of representative democracy to vote solely according to party lines.
    This assumes that the constituents voted for their MP, and not for the publicity machine surrounding that Blair character (who still gives me the willies, even at this remove. Bbbbrrr)

  4. Hi all; thanks for the comments.
    I am, of course, biased on the stem cell issue, but I think it reflects parliament at its best, without vulnerability to an executive veto, as exercised by Bush to block the Senate-approved Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act a couple of years back. In other words, the (opportunistic) ideology of one individual shouldn’t count. It just interests me where Blair really was on this, even though he was supportive; and where he is now. Because we could turn this on its head: was his supportiveness then an overriding opportunism?
    I’ll throw you a couple of speculative balls:
    1. He wants the Nobel Peace Prize;
    2. He will, before too long (I’ll wager you a pint on this) endorse (the teaching of) ID.

  5. Lee –
    I know a few Catholics, and just because Blair now espouses that faith doesn’t mean he goes along with the hierarchy’s line. This seems to be a fairly standard thing in Catholicism (or there’d be a lot more UK catholics with about 15 chidren…)

  6. Lee, I hope you’re wrong on point number 2. I’m very ambivalent about Blair and I’ve always thought that my opinion of him won’t be fixed until we’ve had the benefit of at least a decade’s worth of hindsight. But an endorsement of teaching ID would bring that forward a bit… and not in his favour.

  7. Brian – Absolutely! Otherwise, there would be none working in human embryology, IVF, embryonic stem cells, etc. But Blair converted recently, which could suggest he has become, er, more ‘fervent’, perhaps.
    Cath – Me too. I confess I’m being (slightly) mischievous there. But it would reinforce my suspicions.

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