Tony Blair, money grabber

This is a comical music video called Bush, Blair, Brown, and Iraq, tribute (satire).

From British daily The Guardian:

Not such a little earner

Tony Blair’s new role as a JP Morgan adviser is just the latest evidence of his brazen avarice

Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Friday January 11, 2008

After the assassination of President Kennedy, De Gaulle was asked what would become of his widow, Jackie. He replied: “She will end up on the yacht of an arms dealer.” With a little licence for the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis‘s exact business, it was one of the great prophetic lines of the age. I wonder how many among the rapturous crowds who greeted their new prime minister on that glad, confident morning in May 1997, or the MPs and commentators who drooled over him then, would have guessed with similar prescience: he’ll end up on the board of JP Morgan.

Other prime ministers have looked for nice little earners after retirement, by way of unreadable memoirs or dubious directorships, but there has always been an almost admirably brazen quality to Tony Blair‘s avarice. Within months of leaving No 10 he has picked up several million for his memoirs, £250,000 a time for speaking engagements, and now an annual £500,000 for providing “strategic advice and insight” to Morgan, the US investment bank, which will take him a few days a month. As the 19th-century Earl of Glasgow might have said, a fellow can jog along on that.

Funnily enough, however overt Blair’s fascination with money may seem, it explains why the left always misunderstood him. Thinking instinctively and incorrigibly in ideological terms, the left saw Blair as a cuckoo who had taken over the nest, capturing the Labour party in order to move it hard to the right. In one sense that was of course true, but it missed a deeper truth. New Labour wasn’t ideologically leftwing or rightwing, it had no ideological content at all.

And although Blair has been praised by the self-styled “very rightwing” historian Andrew Roberts for destroying socialism, that also misses the point. Blair never really understood the undoubted failures of state socialism, he just hated the Labour party. He has never intellectually grasped the case for the competitive market economy, he just loves the rich.

This is one of his most salient traits. As a churchgoer, Anglican or now Roman Catholic, our pious former prime minister must be familiar with the Magnificat, but by some trick of memory he seems to have inverted the words. In the Blairite version it goes: “He hath exalted the mighty in their seat; and put down the humble and meek. He hath filled the rich with good things; and the poor he hath sent empty away.”

From the beginning, the record of his government was stained by the names of Bernie Ecclestone, Lakshmi Mittal, Lord Levy, all thrown up by the frantic search for political funds. This has reached a tragi-farcical conclusion with the £100,000 Peter Hain accepted surreptitiously in his bid for the deputy party leadership (of all absurd things). But in Blair‘s case, the love of money went well beyond party funding.

He never disguised his adoration for folks with plenty of plenty, as the song goes, or his resentment that he wasn’t among them, and his determination to join their ranks. When he moved to Downing Street, he was told by Alastair Campbell to sell his house, in case letting it might occasion any kind of scandal. It was the worst advice Campbell ever gave him, which is saying something, and Blair watched with anguish as the Islington property market rocketed.

That was the background to the lurid story of Cherie’s Bristol flatsthe wife of a Labour prime minister [see also here] engaged in property speculation – and then the Blairs’ acquisition of a house in Connaught Square, London. It looks as though he received some more dud advice, since the house is already worth less than the £3.65m he paid for it. The whole of his prime minister’s salary of £187,00 could not have serviced the mortgage he must have raised, and the media, far from being too cynical and intrusive, as is sometimes said, gave Blair a very soft ride by not investigating how on earth he had paid for the property.

A simple answer is that it was bought in anticipation of much wealth to come after he resigned. He would then become – as indeed he has – a very valuable property himself, not for anything he can do or for any real knowledge he possesses, but just for being who he is. Despite having burned its fingers in the subprime crisis, JP Morgan is not entirely stupid, and the bank is prepared to pay a good deal of money just for the name of a man who, with exquisite understatement, now tells us that “I have always been interested in commerce”.

Referring to the ghastly speech (“this is the greatest nation on earth”) with which the prime minister announced his departure last May, Alan Bennett observes in the London Review of Books that, to Blair, “the real importance of his premiership is as a stage in his spiritual journey”. Or is it his financial journey?

Geoffrey Wheatcroft is the author of Yo, Blair!

Blair supported Bush against Kerry: here.

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