Tony Blair wanted to end televised address with "God bless Britain"

The former prime minister says that civil servants stopped him from using the phrase during a speech

It is no secret that Tony Blair is a deeply religious man. Yet as prime minister, this was not allowed to permeate his public persona – indeed, his spin doctor Alastair Campbell’s line “we don’t do God” has become the stuff of legend.

Now that he is no longer in office, no such rules apply, and Blair has revealed that he once wanted to end a televised address to the nation with “God bless Britain”, echoing American presidents who traditionally sign off with “God bless America”.

Speaking at a conference on leadership at London’s Royal Albert Hall, organised by the Holy Trinity Brompton Church, the former prime minister said:

I had to do some address to the country when I was Prime Minister.

You know the American president finishes an address to the American people by saying 'God bless America'. “I had the idea of finishing my address by saying "God bless Britain".

This caused consternation in the whole system. A committee was convened, and we had to discuss it.

I remember we had this debate on and off but finally one of the civil servants said in a very po-faced way “I just remind you Prime Minister, this is not America” in this very disapproving tone, so I gave up the idea. I think it is a shame that you can't since it is obviously part of what you are.

Blair, who left Downing Street in 2007 and has since founded the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and converted to Catholicism, went on to defend the role of religion in both private and public life.
 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.