The Sketch: Tony takes his pew inside church.co.uk

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The Independent Online

We were crossing Westminster Bridge to see Tony Blair in church. It was a day out. "You look posh," the Gypsy woman said, offering me an exquisitely tiny carnation.

We were crossing Westminster Bridge to see Tony Blair in church. It was a day out. "You look posh," the Gypsy woman said, offering me an exquisitely tiny carnation.

"Appearances are deceptive, my dear," I said, as grandly as I could in the circumstances, and gave her a pound (you don't want to be cursed).

"Deceptive indeed," she would have thought as she pinned the torn-up piece of red paper napkin into my button hole. Paper napkin wrapped in foil! Even gypsy witches are modernising.

In Lambeth, Mr Blair's church had rebranded itself. Its name was now church.co.uk. Does it work for you? "Hurry up children, we'll be late for church dot co dot uk!"

I hadn't been in church for years, not since the last Labour election launch now I think of it. It's become very professional. In church.co.uk we found Mr Blair's sponsors. They're called Faithworks, a sub-brand, or a brand extension, or a licensee of the Christian franchise.

Inside, they had public relations officers, a technical support team for the webcast, and a production director. The press pack offered us "a 15-point set of standards for excellence in community work" (quite a productivity gain over the Mosaic code).

There was much reference to monitoring, measuring strategies and planning. We were offered "change in all sorts of 360 degree ways".

So far, so nauseating. Mr Blair got a terrific welcome and made what he could of his speech (it needed less tonic and more gin).

In the unscripted part [sic], Mr Blair urged idealism on us and exhorted us to reject cynicism because it was possible to eliminate poverty in Africa by raising the aid budget to under 1 per cent of GDP but he couldn't do it alone (he kept saying he couldn't do it by himself); he had to have our help.

In fact, raising the aid budget to under 1 per cent of GDP is something he could do tomorrow. The one thing he can do entirely by himself, he won't.

When it came to questions, they gave us nothing on Iraq, abortion, creationism in schools, terrorism or school vouchers. The questions were hand-written from the audience, sealed in envelopes and taken to a desk behind a partition where they were inspected, sifted, and passed to a Downing Street press officer for approval.

On the way out, I asked if there had been questions about abortion. There had been, the vicar in charge of questions said. Had they been rejected on the instructions of Downing Street? I asked nastily. "On the request of Downing Street," the vicar replied exactly. He was obliged to tell the truth. It brings tears to your eyes, doesn't it?

Abortion wasn't thought by the commissar to fit with the theme of the meeting which was "building trust".

Tony appeared to have built a bit of trust. But appearances, as we know, are deceptive.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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