Belfast Telegraph

Mark Steel: Did Tony Blair run 'gift donation' idea by Cherie first?

I should think when the British Legion appears at the International Court in The Hague, they'll claim they had no idea the £4.6m "gift" they received from warlord Mister Tony Blair was blood money from a criminal.

"We just thought it was a charming present from an admirer", they'll say, although Mia Farrow will contradict this by suggesting she'd warned the Legion about the origins of the donation, and add she'd witnessed them being "flirtatious" with Mr Blair on a number of occasions.

You can't blame the British Legion for accepting this money, because we seem to have devised a system for looking after disabled soldiers that depends on donations from book advances. Other more backward countries still use the old-fashioned method of providing money from the society that sent them to war. But we've developed a more reliable method of waiting for someone's book money. I suppose when a limbless soldier first applies for assistance, they're told, "If JK Rowling comes through you're in luck. Otherwise you'll have to get about on a wheelbarrow I'm afraid."

So they have to appear grateful, but it seems many soldiers and their families are uneasy, seeing as the donor was the man who caused them to need the donation in the first place. Still, I'm sure they see the positive side, and say, "I might have lost a leg, but with these facilities I can represent the West Midlands at disabled table tennis so it's all worked out in the end."

Some people have suggested the donation is Blair's conscience money, and the Catholic Church he's joined certainly has provisions for that. In the 18th century the Vatican even had a menu, listing the price to be paid to the Pope for redemption from each sin. For example "A nun who had given herself to several men" had to find 131 livres for absolution. So allowing for inflation, helping to start a catastrophic war by telling a pack of lies must be somewhere around £4.6m.

But there doesn't appear to be a sign of penance. Blair still says, when asked if he regrets going to war, "I have no regrets about overthrowing Saddam," which slightly skirts round the issue of the million others who got killed as well. It's as if Harold Shipman had been asked if he regretted his actions and said "I don't regret victim number 59, he was a right bastard", then gave the advance for his memoirs to an old people's home.

So there must be some other motivation, and for that perhaps you have to remember Blair is no longer an individual, he's a brand. He's a global business, like Kylie Minogue or Tiger Woods. He has a maze of corporations in his name, earning £11.7m in 2009 from the only two listed in this country. He earned a million from the Kuwaitis, he has houses worth £13m, a staff of 130, he doesn't say or do things because he thinks or feels them, he does what's decided by his financial and public relations advisors. You might as well say ,"I see the people of Daz have announced their latest powder astro-cleanses to literally demolish stains leaving linen fluffier than ever ever before. I wonder why they've said that." Blair makes decisions based on what's good for business.

And business isn't helped when you're tarnished with Iraq. Everyone associated with the war is backing away from it, so even Prescott now claims he doubted the evidence all along. Soon Bush will say, "I knew we should never have invaded Iraq but would anyone listen?"

So Blair has to repair his image, and this gesture could be part of that plan. Some people have suggested the motivation is irrelevant because the money will be so useful, but to test that theory, imagine if the British Legion announced "You'll never guess what. Today we got another donation of £4m, from sales of the latest DVD by Osama Bin Laden. It really has been our lucky week."

But there's only one thing we can know for certain. Cherie will be bloody furious. She probably sat at the meeting going "Give it away? The lot? Aaaaagh. What if instead we let some of the wounded live in one of our flats for a bit, at a reduced rent, as long as they keep the garden tidy?"

Belfast Telegraph

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