Can Tony Blair salvage his reputation?

Earlier this year, I was browsing my local Waterstones, when I came across a copy of ‘Blair Inc.’ on the shelf. I have to admit to an enduring curiosity in our former Prime Minister, and so picked up the book and parked myself in the attached Costa to start reading. To those of you that have followed Mr. Blair’s work after his premiership ended, the content of the book would come present little new information, and although it was clearly written with a strong ‘Blair is the Devil Incarnate’ stance, I found myself glued to the book for the better part of an afternoon.

After leaving office in 2007, Mr. Blair set up a controversial business empire, property portfolio and roster of commercial interests. Raking in millions in annual fees, Mr Blair was able to create a comfortable lifestyle for his family, buying multiple properties around the UK, and turning one London property into something akin to a replica of Number 10 Downing Street.

In contrast to his left-wing politics, Mr. Blair carried out work for dictators and cronies, in addition to his work as ‘Middle Eastern Peace Envoy’. Rather interestingly, the book alleges that this role was really just an excuse for Mr. Blair to jet around the Middle East seeking lucrative business deals, and includes quotes from a number of senior political individuals who claim to have very rarely seen Mr. Blair in the region, despite his high profile role.

Personally, I found the book to be so hard hitting against Mr. Blair that I found myself reading it with a pinch of salt. The book includes a quote from an individual who met Mr. Blair at a garden party where he was asking ‘why people didn’t like him’. This gave me pause to wonder about the mindset of such a man – once a beloved leader of a great Western Democracy, whose name is now spat with venom by many in the UK.

My conclusion was that the truth was probably fairly complex, and that whilst he had made some mistakes along the way, it was unlikely that our former premier was totally ‘evil’. Whilst undeniably distasteful, much of the book focused around activities which I would consider to be fair commercial interests, rather than the activities of a narcissistic sociopath.

On the flip side of this, Mr. Blair does seem to have had difficulty letting go of a privilege and power he once wielded (although in all honesty, I think many of his detractors would have similar difficulty if the tables were turned). Creating replicas of Downing Street and amassing a multi-million pound property empire hardly seem like the selfless actions of an individual primarily concerned with helping the world’s poorest (as Mr. Blair supposedly is).

Earlier this year, I was therefore interested to read that Tony Blair Associates would be closed down, so that Mr. Blair could focus on his pro bono charity works. Windrush and Firerush; the two companies through which the majority of Mr. Blair’s revenues flow, would be dissolved and the ‘substantial financial reserves’ held by the companies would be gifted to his pro bono work, which Mr. Blair explained would continue to absorb the majority of his time.

Again however, things are not as straight forward as they seem, as reports also indicate that the former Prime Minister will ‘retain a small number of personal consultancies’ to provide an income. As soon as I read this, I could almost hear the hisses from some political commentators, who presumably expect Mr. Blair to work for free forever more.

In theory, Mr Blair’s business empire could have made him a millionaire many times over, but multiple individuals have commented on the difficulty of confirming this due to the corporate structure of his businesses. Official statements have attempted to suggest that the majority of the funds have been put to charitable causes, but without transparency, this is conveniently impossible to either prove or refute.

Critics of our former Prime Minister will also be quick to highlight the Blair family property empire, estimated to be worth upwards of £25 million. Having already read extensive coverage from sources including The Guardian, the coverage from the book didn’t come as too much of a shock, but again attempted to imply that such success is symptomatic of moral failure. Having purchased their first property in 1983 for just £30,000, the Blair family now owns at least 10 houses and 27 flats between them.

His children are all fortunate to own Central London properties, in addition to a residence on Connaught Square worth more than £8 million, and a country residence in Buckinghamshire which is said to mirror the traditional country residence of a sitting Prime Minister – Chequers Court.

Mr Blair’s critics are quick to point to this success as clear evidence of a man hell bent on grabbing power and money at the expense of all else. Perhaps the movement away from his commercial ventures and greater focus on his charity work will help to salvage his reputation, and it seems obvious that this is the intention behind closing down a business which has attracted such controversy.

The scaling back of this work should go some way towards mollifying his critics, but with substantial funds already having been made, perhaps the damage is already done. Having worked for a number of distasteful foreign regimes, some critics go as far as to argue that he has brought the Office of Prime Minister into disrepute.

Personally, I think our former Prime Minister should be coloured in a more nuanced light. He transformed the political landscape of the UK, driving investment into schools and hospitals (including increasing National Insurance to raise extra cash for the NHS), introducing the National Minimum Wage and did good work in Northern Ireland, Somalia and Kosovo.

It is undeniably true that many global instigators of ‘evil’ rarely see (or care about) the damage they cause and some of the worst people in history have totally lacked any self-awareness and perspective on their actions. Despite this, I find it difficult to lump Mr Blair into this category when taking into consideration that he had no requirement to close down these successful businesses.

If nothing else, I’d recommend picking up a copy of the book – especially if you’re interested in seeing another side to our former Prime Minister. An interesting insight into a man who turned towards making money, attempting to shed some transparency on an impenetrable financial body run by a previously adored leader.

Whether the closure of his commercial entities goes some way towards mollifying critics, including the author of ‘Blair Inc.’, remains to be seen, but Mr. Blair certainly seems to be making a gesture in that direction.

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