Blair Inc: The Man Behind the Mask: Tony Blair’s desperate quest to remain relevant
Since he left office the former UK prime minister has amassed a fortune estimated to be at least €25m. This unremittingly cynical take asks why he has become so obsessed with self-enrichment
Blair Inc: The Man Behind the Mask
Francis Beckett, David Hencke and Nick Kochan
Cherie Blair once lamented to an acquaintance of mine that all her husband wanted to do when he retired as prime minister of the United Kingdom was to go and teach in Africa. She need not have worried. In retirement Tony Blair has not allowed any residual streak of idealism to get in the way of making serious money.
In the eight years since Blair ceased to be prime minister he has amassed a fortune. Given the secrecy that cloaks most of his business activities, precise figures are hard to come by. Estimates of his wealth range from €25 million to €100 million. The visible evidence is impressive. The Blairs have amassed a substantial property portfolio that includes a five-storey Georgian town house in a posh part of London, a Grade I listed manor house in Buckinghamshire, two apartment blocks totalling 24 flats in Stockport and Manchester, and town houses for three of their children.
Meanwhile, the man criss-crosses the globe, often in private jets, dispensing advice to autocrats and democrats alike, canoodling with the megarich, touching down from time to time on British soil, where his occasional interventions in domestic politics are increasingly resented by those who once held him in high esteem.
How has it come to this? The Blairs always had a thing about money. Cherie because she was brought up in poverty, the child of a father who abandoned his family. Tony because when he became prime minister he was advised for security reasons to sell the family house in Islington and invest the proceeds in equities. This he duly did, only to see property prices treble and equities nosedive. The experience scarred both of them. Blair probably lost more in his first term than he earned as prime minister.
None of this, however, is sufficient to explain what has happened since. This book, by three freelance journalists, attempts to piece together the secretive and bewildering network of companies and charitable trusts Blair has assembled since he ceased to be prime minister, in July 2007. Today he is estimated to employ more than 200 people, many of them officials and advisers who once served the New Labour court.
Almost immediately on leaving Downing Street, at the behest of his friend George Bush, Blair was appointed to represent the Quartet – the UN, the EU, the US and Russia – in the Middle East. His mission was to promote economic growth and institution-building in the West Bank and Gaza.
The job was unpaid, but it meant he would continue to have access to the rulers of the world. The difficulty was that from the outset Blair was seen as a stooge of the Americans and Israelis and so lacked credibility with the Palestinians. His achievements as Quartet envoy are said to be minimal, and he has recently announced his intention to step down.
The authors also argue that, as his business empire accumulated, there were serious conflicts of interest between his public and private interests.
Most of his commercial operations are organised under the heading of Tony Blair Associates, which, according to its website, provides advice and support to governments on “key areas of governance, modernisation and implementation”. It also provides “geopolitical and strategic advice” to multinational corporations and brings together “institutional investors with investment opportunities”. Clients are known to include central Asian dictators, Gulf sheikhs and oil companies anxious to do business with the late, unlamented Muammar Gadafy. Business clients include JP Morgan, Zurich Insurance, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and various oil and gas interests.
An obvious question arises: what is it all about? How did this brilliant man who set out to make the world a better place, and who can look back with pride on much of what he achieved in office – not least peace in Ireland – become so focused on self-enrichment? The authors take an unremittingly cynical view. The fact that he donated the entire £4.6 million proceeds from his memoirs to a military charity they dismiss as “blood money” to assuage guilt about Iraq. Grudgingly they acknowledge that the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative is doing some good in Sierra Leone. Overall, however, the tone is remorselessly negative – on occasion ludicrously so. The chapter headed “A route back to British politics” verges on the ridiculous.
My view, and to some extent that of the authors, is that it is not just about money. It has to do with a failure to adjust to the loss of office. In his afterlife Blair has set out to re-create the world he once inhabited. The town house in London bears more than a passing resemblance to 10 Downing Street. The country house in Buckinghamshire is eerily close to Chequers, the country residence he once enjoyed as prime minister. Much of this racing about the world is displacement activity, a desperate bid to remain relevant by a man who had grown used to a life of frenetic activity.
Malign spellHas it led to happiness? I doubt it. The man looks permanently jet-lagged. Giving evidence to the Chilcot inquiry on Iraq, his eyes had a haunted look, as though he knows (as he surely does) that the fallout from Iraq will cast a malign spell on him for the rest of his days. For what it is worth, my view of Blair is that he is a fundamentally decent man who was in many respects an outstanding leader but who made the catastrophic mistake of allying us to the worst American president of my lifetime with consequences we all know about. Since then it has been downhill all the way.
Perhaps it would have been better for both his personal happiness and his long-term reputation had he followed the example of Jimmy Carter, another decent man who, on losing office, elected to devote the rest of his life to good works and who, as a result, is held in greater esteem around the world than he ever was as president.
Chris Mullin was MP for Sunderland South from 1987 to 2010 and a minister in Tony Blair’s government