Tony Blair's new faith film competition

The choice of judges confirms that our former prime minister is rather too fond of celebs.

Sometimes it's quite difficult to decide what to make of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Its aim to increase understanding across religious and cultural divides is perfectly admirable. Whether our former prime minister is necessarily the man to do it is, however, debatable.

When not busy raking in enormous amounts of cash from speeches and now an autobiography, Blair has managed to make a lot of noise "doing God" (as he didn't when in office), but not all his fellow believers are convinced that this is helpful to the cause.

Anyway: now the TBFF is launching a film competition called Faith Shorts, open to those aged 25 or under. Entrants are asked to pitch a film about how their faith inspires them. Those shortlisted will be provided with video cameras to shoot their shorts, as it were, and the three winners will be given the opportunity to premiere their work at Bafta in July.

All very good. I'm a little perplexed by the judging panel, though. The members include Queen Rania of Jordan, Jonathan Caplan, Amr Khaled, Jet Li, Wendi Murdoch, Natalie Portman, June Sarpong, Nik Powell and Deepak Verma.

Many of these judges are extremely famous (I've even seen posters of Jet Li in longhouses on Borneo), which is doubtless flattering for all the participants. It is also true that several have a great deal of experience in the world of television and film. But the panel does sound a little short on members with strong religious credentials. It is not exactly in danger of being criticised for its highbrow slant, either.

Maybe I'm being uncharitable. But the choice of judges does not do anything to diminish the suspicion that Blair is rather too fond of hobnobbing with celebrities.

We like our ex-prime ministers to come across as dignified. A little less glitz in the life of the last occupant of No 10 would be welcome -- and especially in the context of a faith foundation, which surely should not be in the business of suggesting that worldly fame is something to be valued in itself.

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Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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