Retiring PM Blair plans to encourage inter-faith cooperation

By staff writers
10 May 2007

As British PM Tony Blair announced today that he will stand down as prime minister on 27 June 2007, speculation continued as to his future role - including a foundation to promote inter-faith cooperation.

Mr Blair made the announcement of his impending resignation in a speech to party activists in his Sedgefield parliamentary constituency, after earlier briefing the Cabinet on his plans.

It is widely believed that he will be succeeded as Labour leaders and PM by chancellor Gordon Brown, though a challenge by left-wingers John McDonnell or Michael Meacher is still possible and will be determined on Monday.

Mr Blair says he will continue as a backbench MP until the next national poll. The Liberal Democrats have called for an immediate snap general election.

Meanwhile the Independent on Sunday newspaper claims that friends of the outgoing PM have said that he "plans to act as an ambassador for multi-faith dialogue in Britain and abroad."

Mr Blair recently declared: "The tragedy is that Christians, Jews and Muslims are all Abrahamic religions. We regard ourselves as children of Abraham but we have fought for so long."

It is known that the leading pioneer of 'New Labour' is planning to set up a Blair Foundation soon after leaving No 10 Downing Street, and it is thought that one of its main aims will be to promote further communication between Christians, Muslims and Jews.

When the PM met Pope Benedict XVI in May 2006, they discussed how interfaith conversation and cooperation between religious leaders can assist conflict resolution and the defeat of extremism.

But anti-war MPs have been quick to pour scorm on the idea that the architect of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is cut out for this role.

Others, however, have affirmed Mr Blair's personal commitment, his diplomatic skills, and his great success in bringing apparently irreconcilable forces together in the Northern Ireland peace process - which also came to a head this week with the sewaring in of the new assembly.

The Blair foundation reportedly has the backing of Canon Guy Wilkinson, the Church of England's adviser on interfaith relations, and Sir Sigmund Sternberg, the Labour-supporting Jewish business leader and co-founder of the Three Faiths Forum.

Mr Blair has also been in conversation with ecumenical Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Kung, who has pioneered a "global ethic" for people of different belief systems, both religious and non-religious.

Among the PM's declared past influences is the late Quaker philosopher John MacMurray. However MacMurray's Christian 'personalism' was accompanied by a strong belief in democratic socialism - the creed Mr Blair consciously abandoned as he made new allies on the political right such as George Bush (USA), Silvio Berlusconi (Italy), and lately Nicholas Sarkozy (France).

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