Book Review: ‘BLAIR INC: The man behind the mask’

This review appeared originally on the Independent Catholic News

Book: ‘BLAIR INC: The man behind the mask’

Rebecca Tinsley

‘BLAIR INC: The man behind the mask’

Francis Beckett, David Hencke & Nick Kochan, John Blake Publishing, 2015

Tony Blair recently resigned from his role as an envoy of the Middle East Quartet. The book under review suggests the former British prime minster used his high profile diplomatic access to oil-producing governments in the Middle East to facilitate rather more commercial activity than peace-making.

Living in a permanent Davos-like state since he left Downing Street in 2007, Blair is always on the move, opening doors, enabling deals and accruing vast personal wealth. “Blair Inc” is a survey of several Blair entities, some charitable in nature. Readers of Independent Catholic News may be particularly interested in the nebulous and secretive work of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, and his conversion to Catholicism, both of which are covered in detail in this investigative tome.

Blair has used the connections acquired as prime minister to accumulate a significant business empire, reportedly charging world leaders as much as £8 million a year for his advice. He has worked in Kazakhstan, Kuwait (which allegedly paid him £27 million), Myanmar and Azerbaijan, although the precise nature of his activities remains a mystery. The authors suggest there is a gap between the stated goal of Blair’s input – improving governance and aiding modernization – and the results. However, Myanmar’s dictator is much better at handling the media, following his work with Blair, even if efforts to become more democratic have stalled.

Blair lends his name and reputation to regimes, such as Azerbaijan, where, as the Washington Post commented, “election authorities released the vote result a full day before voting had even started.” Perhaps the most damning comment comes from Human Rights Watch’s Ken Roth who described Blair as a man who would defend any dictator who will pay him. The reader could be forgiven for feeling queasy when reading accounts of Blair’s contribution to a hagiographic video about Kazakhstan’s leader-for-life, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Such is the secrecy surrounding Blair’s web of charities and companies that it is only possible to draw conclusions about how Blair has leveraged his popularity in the Gulf for having disposed of Saddam Hussein. He has also maximized his Iraq connections, being paid to advise a South Korean energy company which has become one of the biggest investor’s in oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan. None of this is illegal, of course, but one understands why the authors wonder just which of his many hats Tony Blair is wearing when he meets some of the world’s less appealing leaders.

Oil was centre stage when Blair held secret talks with Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, using the dictator’s private jet, and paving the way for his friends at British Petroleum. We are to assume it was purely coincidental that the Lockerbie bomber, al-Megrahi, was released during Blair’s most intensive period of meetings with Gaddafi.

The once consummate political animal Blair is now thought to charge as much as $200,000 for a speech. Yet he reportedly delivers platitudes which draw bewilderment and in some cases annoyance from audiences expecting something more profound than a string of cliches.

Among the non-profit groups in Blair’s empire is the African Governance Initiative (AGI) which installs its experts within governments wishing to promote accountability and transparency. Ironically it is hard to judge their impact, given the lack of transparency and accountability at AGI. The authors point out that African governments which are keen to get aid from Western democracies are likely to go along with schemes such as AIG, while their bureaucrats and kleptocratic rulers revert to type once the money has been banked.

The aims of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation are to improve relationships between the world’s faiths and to make the influence of religion stronger. TBFF accordingly sponsors courses on faith and globalization in sundry colleges. The authors point out that TBFF has struggled to recruit a high profile Muslim for its board, which might be because much of the funding comes from the pro-Israel lobby. TBFF has also reportedly had trouble recruiting a well-known Catholic, possibly, as the authors suggest, since Tony Blair began offering his unsolicited advice about the need for reform within the Church so shortly after converting.

However, the authors are fulsome in their praise of an initiative encouraging faith groups within remote underdeveloped communities to become the sources of knowledge about malaria. There is also recognition of excellent work done during the Ebola crisis.

Your reviewer disagrees with the authors on one point. They repeatedly claim that Tony Blair is charming and persuasive. Having met Blair twice, I found him superficial and phoney rather than charming. What is extraordinary is that sophisticated world leaders and business people did not also see through his fawning and flattery.

The authors do not mention it, but readers of this book might well conclude that compared with the Blair family, Gordon and Sarah Brown have behaved with great dignity and a devotion to genuine public service since leaving Downing Street. Hopefully their decency will one day be recognised by the voters who ejected them in 2010.

 

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