Will Tony Blair ever go away?
The former prime minister keeps finding ways to parlay his prominence into pounds.
TONY BLAIR keeps popping back up to annoy us, doesn't he? Every few months, just as you think he's slid into history, he emerges getting paid a million pounds for something, like brokering an arms deal with Josef Fritzl, and you realize we'll never be rid of him.
Mark Steel is a comedian, a columnist for the Independent newspaper, and a socialist and activist in Britain. He's the author of two collections about contemporary Britain, It's Not a Runner Bean: Dispatches from a Slightly Successful Comedian and Reasons to Be Cheerful--as well as Vive la Revolution: A Stand-up History of the French Revolution.
At least in the past, leaders did their damage, then disappeared, but he'll never go. It's like finding out the next leader of the UN will be General Franco or that Emperor Hirohito is to be a judge on X Factor.
A recent Channel 4 Dispatches program concerned one of Blair's business dealings, but they needn't have bothered with the investigative bits. It could just have gone, "Tony Blair is paid $3 million a year by JPMorgan," and any reasonable person would shout, "Oh, you dirty pig, how did you pull that off?" while the rest of the hour was adverts.
Because you might ask why the bank feels he's worth this salary. It's possible it's because he's really good at banking. He went for an interview and did a test, and they said, "We've never met anyone who can count so fast, and you can even multiply. Name your price." Or, if we were to be cynical, it's because he has influence and connections as he was the prime minister.
The program went on to claim that his role with the bank compromised his position as Middle East peace envoy, but in his defense, that can't be true, as he's already as compromised as it is possible to be on an account of him being Tony Blair.
This is where his genius has to be acknowledged. You'd think that when someone invaded one part of the Middle East for having weapons that turned out not to exist, then was the most strident leader in Europe in supporting the bombing of Gaza, you'd done all you could to ridicule the post of Middle East peace envoy. But he keeps finding new ways, like praising Mubarak as a force for good, or having six business meetings with Qaddafi.
He's like a stadium rock band that has to make each show even more spectacular. Next, he'll float through Mecca on Pink Floyd's inflatable pig, then announce he's making progress on bringing all sides together.
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A FEW people give him the benefit of the doubt. For example, one writer in the Independent defended his business dealings, concluding that if he "strives to make his family financially secure, how does that harm us?"
Maybe this explains the behavior of Blair's friends as well. The Qaddafis would sit in bed together saying, "We need another couple of palaces for the kids, to make sure they have a decent opportunity in life. After all, we won't be here forever, and the cost of torture chambers keeps going up."
The Blairs have amassed somewhere between $23 million and $77 million so far, so it's unclear how much more security they need. Still, there might still be a few countries where they don't have any property, and you wouldn't want to leave open the possibility of one of your family getting stuck in Paraguay without a country estate, so he'd best keep toiling away at JPMorgan, because you've got to put your kids first.
The Blairs will probably scrape by, because every moment seems dedicated to providing this security. They sell Tony's signature, and the opportunity to have a photo taken with him, and this summer, when they threw a kids' party, they charged $15 for every child who came. It must be like Ryanair, the discount airline, in their house. They'd offer you a Custard Cream, then charge you $1.25 plus 10 percent service.
And this is what matters--more than whether he's broken some official code in his business dealings. Because this was the attitude that drove him when he was prime minister, obsessed with being close to money and power, which is why he let the banks run riot, and let Murdoch do whatever he pleased, and went to war with Iraq to stay next to Bush. And that, if we're being picky, you might say, did harm us.