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Blair has used his political nous to pocket millions

By Eamonn McCann

Published 15/04/2015

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair

On January 26, 2009, Tony Blair arrived in the Gulf state of Kuwait in his capacity as representative of the "Quartet", for talks with the Emir, Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, on the Palestine question.

The Quartet comprises the UN, the US, the EU and Russia. Its specific task is to speed the achievement of peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Blair had announced his appointment on June 27, 2007. It is hardly cynical to suggest that little progress has been made since.

The main reason has to do with the intractability of the Palestine/Israel problem. But one major reason for Blair's particular failure can be found in his meeting with the Kuwaiti ruler.

Blair arrived unaccompanied by any official of the Quartet. His only travelling companion was his close friend and adviser from his Downing Street days, Jonathan Powell. Powell works for Blair's consultancy group, Tony Blair Associates (TBA).

It has to be assumed that Palestinian-Israeli relations cropped up in conversation between the Emir and the ex-premier.

What is not a matter of assumption is that shortly afterwards TBA won a multi-million pound contract to conduct an analysis of the Kuwaiti economy.

In a Channel 4 documentary, Peter Oborne quoted leading Kuwaiti economist and campaigner for democratic reform Nasser Al-Abolly estimating TBA's fee at £27m. Blair's office denies the figure, but refuses to supply any alternative estimate.

As part of the contract, TBA now has permanent staff based inside the office of the Kuwaiti prime minister, dedicated to serving the regime through "branding, media relations, public perception and strategic communications".

This extraordinary set-up - and much more along the same lines - is described in the book Blair Inc by journalists Francis Beckett, David Hencke and Nick Kochan.

Recently bought at the airport, it proved impossible to put down before the plane had begun its descent, its 350 pages having been devoured and proven more palatable than the airplane food. This is a riveting tale of natural grubbiness and awesome greed.

Other regimes which have forged partnerships with TBA include South Sudan, Abu Dhabi, Rwanda, Qatar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Kazakhstan.

The Blair organisation's relationship with Kazakstan dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev includes the provision of PR services - for example, the provision of additional paragraphs for a speech by Nazarbayev at Cambridge University in July 2012, seven months after Kazakh "special police" had shot dead 15 striking oil workers.

Blair gave the dictator a 500-word passage, which he delivered verbatim, arguing that "these events, tragic though they may be, should not obscure the enormous progress which Kazakhstan has made".

Blair's earnings from the Kazakhstan operation have been estimated by the Financial Times and the Daily Telegraph at £7m a year.

His contribution to any aspect of life in Palestine seems flimsy, faint and, most of all, futile. Another arm of the Blair operation is centred on the Tony Blair Faith Foundation (TBFF), which exists "to demonstrate the vital importance of inter-faith collaboration and showcase how faith communities can be huge assets to governments and international policy".

In fact, one the main activities of TBFF appears to be the promotion of privately owned and profitable "faith academies" across the UK.

TBFF's advisory group includes five Christians, two Jews, a Buddhist, a Zen Buddhist, a Sikh, a Hindu and one representative of the second-biggest religion on earth - Ismail Qhudr Al-Shatti, head of the advisory committee of the Kuwaiti prime minister.

With the proceeds of these multi-faceted activities, Blair has built up a property empire which now includes: a £3.65m mansion in London; an £8m manor in Buckinghamshire; a £1.5m mews house in London; a £1.45m house bought for his daughter, Kathryn; a £3.6m London townhouse for his son, Euan; 14 flats in Stockport; 10 flats in Manchester, etc, etc.

Throughout, Blair has had two of his closest advisers as premier at his side - Powell and Alastair Campbell (of dodgy dossier fame), both veterans of the manoeuvres which led to the Northern Ireland 1998 Agreement.

Their advertised contribution to the peace process here will have done them no harm in their current endeavours.

If Blair were still in the Commons, or had accepted a peerage when he retired - if he were even a county councillor - his activities would be subject to public scrutiny and any conflict of interest referred to the appropriate ethics body. But he has no job description as representative of the Quartet, no structures of reporting or accountability. He can make things up as he goes along.

It's a dream job, involving first-class travel to exotic locations, fabulously lucrative nixers, shoulder-rubbing with the mega-rich and powerful, and no expectation of achieving anything, other than your own enrichment.

And they wonder across the water why there's such cynicism about politics.

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