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Sunday, 25 March, 2001, 15:25 GMT
Blair warned over wooing 'religious'
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Mr Blair is due to make his speech on Thursday
Tony Blair has been warned against using religion to win votes in the forthcoming general election.

Senior members of the Labour Party have warned the prime minister that he risks alienating sections of society if he is seen to be too close to religion.

The comments come ahead of Mr Blair's first speech as prime minister to the Christian Socialist Movement later this week.

It also follows recent statements from the Conservatives in favour of giving religious groups a greater role in delivering welfare.


This is an agnostic nation

Lord Hattersley
Former Labour deputy leader Lord Hattersley said "evangelising" was dangerous and could alienate sections of society.

'A very real danger'

"This is an agnostic nation. People don't take it seriously.

"To evangelise on behalf of one point of view, whatever it is might, just alienate people of a different sort. I think that is a very real danger."

Speaking to BBC One's On The Record programme, Lord Hattersley said he rejected claims that only religious groups could provide welfare.

"I think that is a hideously inappropriate thing and it is very important not to start on that road, because who knows where it will end."

Senior Labour MP Martin O'Neill echoed those views.

"I think we could be in danger of reinforcing social divisions in the name of alternative forms of provision."

'A dangerous precedent'

Mr O'Neill, MP for Ochil, added: "I think that people make their political judgements in elections for a variety of reasons, and I am not sure in the UK if religion or faith-based approaches will be necessarily that successful.

"There are a lot of dedicated professionals who might find it offensive to be asked what their religion was first and then be considered for employment.

"I think it would be a very dangerous precedent to set.

"For those people who do not wish there to be an undue amount of religion in their children's education, I think they have a right to say 'well, we don't see why the local school should become a faith-based institution when we have always seen it as being the local comprehensive to which the whole community could go'.

"We could be in danger of reinforcing social divisions in the name of alternative forms of provision."

But Treasury Minister Secretary Stephen Timms said he believed politics and faith were becoming increasingly "close".

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See also:

01 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Commons paves way for priest MPs
01 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Hague backs role for religious groups
21 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Hague to meet Bush aide
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