From Bambi to Bliar to Blair Inc.
- Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images
Bridget Galton talks to author Nick Kochan about the former PM’s “distasteful” post-political goldrush
When Tony Blair left public office in 2007, he quit Parliament altogether for a globe-trotting existence as Middle East envoy for the powerful Quartet.
But as he reportedly steps back from the (unpaid) role he won because George W. Bush felt “the guy sacrificed his career for me”, a timely piece of investigative journalism criticises Blair’s post-political goldrush that has seen him amass an estimated personal fortune of $90 million and a property portfolio of $37.5 million.
Crouch End author and journalist Nick Kochan, who co-wrote Blair Inc: The Man Behind The Mask (John Blake £20), says this “distasteful” pursuit of money is unprecedented in a former British Prime Minister.
“You have to throw out your preconceptions about Labour politicians, this wholesale business building on the basis of contacts is unprecedented. It’s much more American, the nearest analogy would be President Clinton, but Blair isn’t just giving speeches, he’s using his contacts at the highest levels to engineer contracts for clients.”
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As representative of the UN, US, EU and Russia, Blair was tasked with driving investment into the Palestinian territories – efforts, according to the book, the Palestinian Authority dubbed: “useless, useless, useless”.
Kochan says Blair was always conflicted by his lucrative consultancy contracts – a deal to help a Palestinian mobile phone operator was muddied by the fact that clients of JP Morgan, who pay Blair $2 million a year, invest in the company. A visit to the Emir of Kuwait under Quartet auspices yielded no apparent benefits for Palestine but resulted in a £27million consultancy deal for TB associates.
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“He’s not liked by Palestinians who see him as pro-Israeli and he’s tarnished by links with JP Morgan which typify the complicated conflicts of interest that are his Achilles heel.
“He has done very little as Quartet representative, he has so many activities he doesn’t have time to give the Palestinians a fair crack of the whip. You can only conclude that he has been focusing on a more tangible legacy of wealth acquisition.”
The author’s efforts to untangle this web of contracts with foreign states like Kasakhstan, Egypt and Abu Dhabi, many with dubious human rights records, were almost comically hampered by their obstructive dealings with Blair’s people.
“One of the first things Blair did on leaving power was set up two companies, Windrush and Firerush, with a very complex financial structure; a tax efficient network to ensure you can’t look into what he gets paid for his consultancies.
“We were perceived as hostile and requests for information on his fees and consultancy business were not answered helpfully.”
Kochan, who concedes they were helpful with information on Blair’s pro bono activities helping government efforts in Ebola struck African countries, said concealing the address of Tony Blair Associates was farcical.
“There was just a postcode and a post box. It resembled one of those secretive business consultancies with the company HQ in Jersey. Look at the websites of Tony Blair Associates or the Faith Foundation and you won’t find their HQ in Marble Arch. You could see it as a secrecy issue or a privacy one, evidence that having left power he has a vain hope he’ll be regarded as a private person.”
Asked whether this kind of criticism of Blair isn’t just the politics of envy, Kochan replies.
“The problem is the contacts he built in government have been used to his benefit afterwards – while in office he got very friendly with the president of Kazakhstan and come 2011 he is taken on as a consultant on £16million for two years. Let’s not be naïve that he hasn’t used all those contacts formed at the level of Prime Ministership to gain entry to those governmental offices who are now paying him.
“And when you consider the acquisitive, dare I say greedy, way that Cherie and Ewan have bought up blocks of flats, they are basically property developers.”
Blair’s shaky public reputation suffered further when he featured in a video promoting the Kazakhstani President and was revealed to have assisted with his speech to the Oxford Union justifying the 2011 massacre of striking oil workers.
Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell and communications director Alastair Campbell are both directors of TB associates, escorting him on visits and deliver services to clients.
“They are part of this caravan of consultants. He goes around these countries selling the services of his former press agent and chief of staff; they are part of the sales pitch.”
Kochan posits that it’s status as much as cash that’s driving Blair.
“I think he got this whole status bug as Prime Minister. He left office aged 53 and wanted to stay important. He now has his Number 10 equivalent in Connaught Square and his Chequers equivalent in Buckinghamshire. But the problem is he does have a public accountability. The respect and status in the role of PM is not being upheld in this pursuit of wealth, he has squandered and abused it.”
Perhaps it’s also true that Blair – who has raised thousands for his charity the Faith Foundation and whose political achievements included the minimum wage, FOI, the Good Friday Agreement and Human Rights legislation – realised his legacy would always be dodgy dossiers and war crimes.
Kochan says when Blair asked Colonel Tim Collins how he could restore his reputation, he ignored Collins’ advice to focus on philanthropy before money .
“I interviewed him when he was living in Hackney in 1984.
“It was a very friendly, open interview, he was talking about how business needed to get rid of red tape. At the time the Labour voices were Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock. I could see this was a new kind of Labour politician, very young, keen to connect and talk about his beliefs, with no standing on status. I was totally impressed by him and wrote a piece saying if John Smith ever went, Blair would be the next Labour Party leader.
“In 1997 he was a huge figure of hope. People thought he would save the Labour Party and the country. For a long time the country was in love with his youthfulness and ease.
“It was a long descent into disillusion and the failure to apologise when the Iraq War went badly wrong just rubbed it in. If people didn’t dislike him enough when he left office, to cap it all we have this grotesque money-making spree; an egregious contradiction from a Labour politician.”