Francis Beckett: Tony Blair’s place in the world - super-rich but morally bankrupt

Tony Blair
Tony Blair
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JUST listing some of the big money clients our former Prime Minister Tony Blair was looking after when he was supposed to be helping the Middle East peace process is enough to show you that something’s badly wrong.

There’s Nursultan Nazerbayev, the brutal dictator of Kazakhstan, who routinely tortures opponents, and who won re-­election in 2005 with a stunning 91 per cent of the popular vote.

This is less surprising than it sounds, because there were no other candidates, the opposition candidate having, according to the official report on his death, shot himself twice in the chest before shooting himself in the head.

There are the Burmese generals who have stifled democracy in their country for nearly seven decades. There’s Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, who took over the presidency from his father in 2012 and was re­-elected the next year, a victory marred by the awkward fact that the authorities announced the result before voting started.

And that’s before you even start 
on his Middle East clients, pillars 
of democratic government like the Emir of Kuwait and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

These people pay him very well. He’s intensely secretive about how much.

Actually, he’s secretive about everything. The only person I have investigated who is equally secretive is Arthur Scargill, and he is much less rich, so it doesn’t work so well. I was able to go and knock on the door of his home in Worsbrough, Barnsley – not something I can do with any of Blair’s nine splendid homes.

But researching our book Blair Inc, we did the best calculations we could, and we reckon he’s worth £54m, not counting his properties and the many millions his wife earns.

What does he do with it all? He doesn’t need it. We, the taxpayers, are already giving him a pension of £64,000 a year and a further £84,000 a year to run his office, while his personal security guards cost us £250,000 a year in expenses alone. He earns six-figure sums for speeches pretty well whenever he likes. These speeches, quite often, require no preparation at all, as he simply reads out a publicity handout given him by his host, so he could make a lucrative speech every day without breaking sweat.

A man can only wear one suit at a time, and sleep in one house at a time. His family will never want for anything. He could have afforded to put his heart and soul into the big international job he had, as Middle East envoy helping to bring peace to that troubled region. Where does the money go?

He says a lot of it goes to charity; he means his own charities, the ones that bear his name. He will not say how much goes to these charities, and the names of their donors are kept secret, but we have established that many of Blair’s mega ­rich friends give substantial sums, so his personal contribution cannot be enormous.

And the charities themselves sometimes add to the problem with Blair. The biggest of them, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, is not at all sure whether it wants to be an organisation striving for religious tolerance or one that seeks to make religion a more powerful force in the world.

If it wants to strive for more religious tolerance, this is constantly frustrated by its founder, whose strident and over­-the-­top attacks on Islam give regular offence to Muslims (and incidentally also damage his effectiveness as Middle East envoy).

He might say he is making that statement as Tony Blair, former Prime Minister, not as founder and patron of his faith foundation, or Middle East envoy. The trouble is that when you wear these hats, you can’t take them off when it suits you. You either wear them or you don’t.

And this is the real problem with Tony Blair. When he goes to a meeting, you cannot be sure who he is. Is he the Middle East envoy? Is he the founder and patron of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation? Or is he the principal of Tony Blair Associates, there to sell his expensive consultancy services? The truth, quite often, is that he is all three.

The most charitable explanation for Blair’s antics in the eight years since he ceased to be Prime Minister is that he does not really know where to put himself. He did not want to leave 10 Downing Street, but his colleagues were sure that Labour would never win the next election with him as leader. As it turned out, Labour didn’t win without him, either, but that’s a different story.

What he would really like is to have his old job back, but he knows he never will. So he contents himself by sniping at Labour leader Ed Miliband. He claims he supports Miliband, but every statement he makes about the forthcoming election is designed, in an ever so subtle way, to undermine the man who may, after May 7, be doing the only job Tony Blair really wants – Prime Minister. He keeps a tame lobbying group within the Labour Party called Progress, which, with £260,000 a year from Blair’s friend Lord Sainsbury and money from the British Azerbaijan Society (yes, really), is able to foment trouble for Ed Miliband and fight selection battles tooth and nail to try to ensure that the next Parliamentary intake will be Blair loyalists.

It would, I think, give him a grim sort of satisfaction to be able to say: “there, I told you, only I or my anointed successor can lead Labour to a general election victory”.

It irritates him that Ed Miliband seems to stand for traditional Labour values. This is why he continues to peddle the myth that, back in the 1990s, he, Blair, made Labour electable. All the work to achieve this had been done by former leaders Neil Kinnock and John Smith, and Labour was already on course for a big victory when Tony Blair became leader in 1994.

He didn’t make Labour electable; he benefitted from the work of others. He will never be Prime Minister again, and every day his money-­grubbing activities further damage his reputation and harm the nation he once led.

As his one-time friend Greg Dyke, now chairman of the Football Association, told me, Tony Blair “is now a very sad man. Rich, but he betrayed everything Labour stood for”.

• Francis Beckett is co-author, with David Hencke and Nick Kochan, of Blair Inc, published this week by John Blake Publishing.