This blog has never been a fan of Tony Blair, and The Knife couldn’t stand him way back in 1996, when it was obvious that he and his then friend Brown were soon going to waltz into Downing St, with the unique double whammy of a massive majority and unbelievably favourable economic conditions. It took them 10 years to really wreck the economy, things were so rosy at the start.
I got a lot of abuse from the “anyone but the Tories” crowd at that time, most of whom were genuinely taken by Blair. He visited our hospital once, back then. One of the doctors’ on call rooms was converted into a little lounge for coffee and biscuits for him and entourage. I was just observing how much taller he was than I’d expected, when I was grabbed by the Health Minister – as I was wearing a white coat – with the words “let’s go and see some real patients”. I showed him round the outpatient clinic and went round the waiting room where he shook everyone’s hand manically. The last patient looked at him grumpily and barked “I’ve been sitting here for two hours, and what are you going to do about it” which the minister heard, completely ignored, and shot out of the door.
I digress. While I never could stand Blair – and I recommend Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s masterly Yo Blair! for some of the other reasons why – I would concede that he’s an intriguing figure these days, which is how this blog first started.
However, things have drifted badly for Blair. There is no magic act in the Middle East – most people there hate him, understandably – and his own buddies have continued to disown him. He damages what’s left of his reputation by keeping in with two of the three most poisonous figures of British public life since the second world war – Mandelson and Campbell (the third, of course, is Gordon). I don’t mind his obvious fondness for wealth one bit, but he does get it from some dodgy sources. One of his long time cheerleaders, Nick Cohen, has had enough:
Tim Allan, Blair’s former media adviser and Portland’s founder, recruited his old friend, Alastair Campbell, last week. A few months before, a Financial Times reporter spotted Campbell at the airport at Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. He wondered what had brought Campbell from his London home to a flyblown central Asian dictatorship. Campbell would not say if his visit had anything to do with Blair’s latest business dealings. Few would be surprised if it had because Blair’s dealings are extensive.
As one astonished and disgusted former supporter put it: “If you want to know what price a great man will sell his legacy for, it’s $13m.” According to the Financial Times, that is the sum that President Nursultan Nazarbayev has paid for Blair’s services. His old gang is along for the ride and eager to see what an oil-rich dictatorship, which shoots strikers, burns the offices of opposition parties and kills their leaders, can offer.
As well as the enigmatic Campbell circling the carousels at Astana airports, a spokesman for Portland told me that it was “reforming Kazakhstan’s communications”. Sir Richard Evans, formerly of BAE Systems, who was once described as “one of the few businessmen who can see Blair on request”, now chairs the £50bn Kazakh state enterprise Samruk and it in turn hires Peter Mandelson to deliver speeches.
The regime is grateful and not just for the uses the Blairites’ support can be put to abroad. Like every other dictatorship, Kazakhstan wants to show its subjects that foreigners, who have no reason to fear the secret police, endorse the regime of their own free will. The backing of outsiders makes them seem more powerful and their propaganda sound more plausible. (It is for this reason that George Galloway has been such a popular figure in the presidential palaces of the Middle East.)….
..His back is turned now and the plain speaking has gone. He won’t explain why he’s helping the Kazakh dictator present a better face to the west. Apparently, he has said that he is not personally profiting from appearing in a propaganda video praising the dictatorship’s “progress” and hymning its “extraordinary economic potential”. (I say apparently because his office would not respond to my repeated inquiries.) But it is beyond doubt that his commitment to democracy is now as flimsy as any relativist’s: free elections may be good enough for the people of Britain, but the Kazakhs cannot expect to enjoy the same privileges.
Blair’s mindless admiration of wealthy men explains his decline. In the 21st century, they tend to be dictators with sovereign wealth funds and tame oligarchs to command, or financiers. No surprise, then, that as well as advising Kazakhstan, Blair also advises JP Morgan.
His love of money has brought down the worst fate that could have befallen him. He now has the manners and morals of his opponents. He has become a George Galloway with a Learjet at his disposal.
Have a look at this to get a flavour of Kazakhstan. How much money does he need?