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Bush stands between Blair and God

London, May 5: Alastair Campbell has banned Tony Blair from talking about God in public, according to two 50th birthday profiles of the British Prime Minister.

Downing Street’s director of communications is afraid that Blair could sound too much like George W. Bush, the born-again American President.

Campbell interrupted one interviewer’s question about Blair’s Christian faith by reminding him: “We don’t do God.” On another occasion he and other senior members of staff vetoed Blair’s suggestion that he conclude his televised address to the nation at the start of the war against Iraq by saying: “God bless you”.

The two incidents show the extent of the secular grip that Campbell — an avowed atheist — exercises on his boss. He fears that religion is too sensitive an issue for the Prime Minister to speak about. The ban dates back to 1996 when Blair was the Opposition leader.

He gave an interview in which he appeared to suggest that the Tories could not be Christian because of their policies. Usually Blair ducks questions about the importance of his faith. He is a regular churchgoer who attends Mass with his wife Cherie and four children, all of whom are Roman Catholic.

There has been speculation that Blair, who is an Anglican, might convert to Rome.

Several years ago he was discreetly rebuked by Cardinal Basil Hume for taking communion in a Catholic church, which is forbidden to non-Catholics. Downing Street’s sensitivity on the issue is illustrated in the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

David Margolick, the magazine’s journalist who spent several weeks accompanying the Prime Minister, asked him about his religious ties with President Bush. Campbell, who was listening in on the conversation, asked: “Is he on God'”

When Blair confirmed that he was, Campbell said: “We don’t do God. I’m sorry, we don’t do God.” Asked by Margolick if he had discussed religion with Bush, the Prime Minister said: “I can’t say it’s something we’ve discussed, but it’s something we share.”

In another profile, published in the Times, Blair is recorded telling his staff that he wants to end his television address with “God bless you”. His colleagues, including Campbell, object, with one saying it would sound to viewers like “chaplains pushing stuff down their throats”.

Blair hit back by telling his staff: “You are the most un-Godly lot.” Elsewhere in the article Blair describes how he is ready to “meet his Maker” and justify his decision to go to war.

War veteran wins case

A British soldier suffering from a brittle bone disease won a landmark Gulf War syndrome case when a tribunal ruled that a cocktail of drugs given to him in 1991 should be blamed for his illness.

Alex Izett was never deployed in the Gulf, but his symptoms, including fatigue and digestive and psychological problems, were identical to those of some veterans of the war in which a US-led coalition drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. The ruling is seen as the first recognition of the syndrome which Britain’s ministry of defence says does not exist. The ministry said today it had lost the case on legal, not medical, grounds but it had no plans to appeal. The war pensions tribunal ruled in December that Royal Engineer Izett’s osteoporosis and other symptoms were caused by the injections, a cocktail of chemical antidotes given to soldiers before the Gulf War.

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