The Kazakh dictator Nazarbayev apparently paid Blair $13m to eulogise his odious regime in a state video and applaud him for "subtlety and ingenuity … in a region fraught with difficulties".
By Simon Jenkins
26 July 2012
The dictator Nazarbayev and Blair who was paid $13m to eulogise the odious Kazakhstan regime.
BRITAIN in its hour of trouble needs a Tony Blair. It has a queen, a prime minister, a chancellor, a leader of the opposition, but it is deficient in Tony Blairs.
Or that is what Tony Blair thinks. He last year earned £20m from this and that, and feels that now his purpose "is not to make money but to make a difference". The old phraseology still brings a tear to the eye.
The result has been impressive. A "comeback team" has assembled under "Tony Blair Associates" in London, in the style of an early contender for an American primary. It is not yet T-shirts and interns, but two interviews have been graciously awarded to the BBC and one each to the Financial Times and Daily Telegraph.
Blair has "guest edited" the Evening Standard. He has appeared at a £500-a-plate Arsenal dinner with Ed Miliband, a faith seminar with the archbishop of Canterbury, and a Labour reception for Keith Vaz. The choreography is immaculate.
Blair's contribution to economic policy is that "Britain must not hang 20 bankers at the end of the street", a dutiful nod in the direction of his £2m salary from JP Morgan. He is an adviser to Kazakhstan on human rights and to the Labour party on Olympics legacy, a double whammy of hopeless causes. The Kazakh dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, apparently paid him $13m to eulogise his odious regime in a state video and applaud him for "subtlety and ingenuity … in a region fraught with difficulties".
Meanwhile Blair feels the west is "asleep on Islamist extremism" and needs to "ramp up the pressure" on Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Asked by CNN if he had "shut the door" on returning to power, he mumbled: "It's literally – I mean, maybe I should just shut it, but I just kind of think, 'Why?' I mean, you know, the – so, look, I've still got plenty of ideas and energy. But I can't see anything happening on the horizon. I'm not planning or plotting or scheming." Perhaps he wants to lead the Tories.
What is going on? Silvio Berlusconi is said to be eyeing a comeback in Italy, as is Nicolas Sarkozy in France. There are regular rumours of Bill Clinton returning to the White House through his wife, Hillary. Blair told the Telegraph that since leaving office he had learned much about Europe and the world, and "sometimes it's quite shocking to me, how useful this knowledge would have been".
The world seems full of charged-up ex-leaders desperate to redeem their pasts and find immortality, as Woody Allen said, by not dying.
Britain is no stranger to political revivals but they normally take place in the context of parliamentary democracy. Not since the Stuarts have supra-constitutional devices been deployed by British rulers, and the precedent was not happy. Russell, Derby, Gladstone, Salisbury all "came back", as did Churchill and Wilson, except that they had remained part of the parliamentary community throughout, and were accountable to their parties.
A good afterlife is available to British prime ministers. They can get a pension and a platform in the House of Lords. They can pre-empt history with a self-justificatory memoir. They can act the performing seal for fees that defy any concept of value for money. Blair's top whack is said to be £190,000. Ex-leaders can even take vacuous international jobs, like Blair solving the Middle East or Gordon Brown as UN "special envoy for children".
Blair seems to have tired of all this and craves a national stage. Yet the craving seems post-parliamentary. "I've got things to say and if people want to listen, that's great," he cries. He once returned from a visit to the US full of admiration for a constitution where candidates run for office without the clutter of parliament or party. His aide, Jonathan Powell, described his style as "Napoleonic". It was thus in office. All was form rather than substance. Nothing happened, worked or changed, but the spinners spun and the media purred. Small wonder when Blair left office he sought the messianic presidency of Europe.
We are told that holders of high office, especially those toppled against their will, often fantasise about being summoned back to lead their country in its hour of need. It is a common power dream. Until late in life, Harold Macmillan thought he would return. Edward Heath was sure he would, when Margaret Thatcher was stumbling in the early 80s. Callaghan also murmured of a return to his party's banner.
In a book analysing "hubris syndrome" (covering many world leaders), David Owen recalled how Blair dismissed an official who cautioned him on Iraq, by saying: "You are Neville Chamberlain, I am Winston Churchill and Saddam is Hitler."
We can see why Blair admitted to Roy Jenkins that he regretted not having studied history. Owen quoted Justin Frank on narcissistic personality disorder, or megalomania, in which a leader "is indifferent to any damage he caused [when in office] because he always had a reason for his actions; he is without guilt or compassion, and incapable of even thinking about reparation". Witness Blair's appearance before Chilcot.
A Guardian poll this week was a cruel reality check. It suggested Blair as leader would knock three points off Labour's rating under Miliband. He must surely realise he has moved on, into a nirvana of limousines, bodyguards, private jets and perma-tans for which he always seemed destined. Blair is the Sepp Blatter of British politics. The world has an appetite for vague platitudes and glamorous hogwash, and is happy to pay him for it.
If Blair really wants immortality, he could find it through redemption. Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, retrieved his reputation with a peace prize. A muckraker called Joseph Pulitzer retrieved his with a prize for good writing. Perhaps the world is ready for the Tony Blair prize. It could be awarded annually in an unbombed Muslim capital for grovelling political atonement.