Blair queries bishop list

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Tony Blair has stepped into a political minefield by moving to veto the Church of England's two choices for a senior bishopric, writes Stephen Castle.

In a highly unusual move the Prime Minister has asked Crown Appointments Commission to supply two more names for the post of Bishop of Liverpool.

His actions risk a direct confrontation with the commission and threaten to raise the issue of government interference in the Church of England.

Mr Blair, a keen church-goer, is known to have his own views on the direction the Church should follow, and to take a personal interest in key appointments.

The Prime Minister's allies last night said his actions did not necessarily mean the Church's two candidates were out of the running. Mr Blair is said to want to see the larger list from which the candidates to succeed David Sheppard have been drawn.

The workings of the 20-year-old commission are shrouded in secrecy, and allies of Mr Blair say his move is not unprecedented.

Even if that is the case his interference is certain to alarm churchmen.