Richard Heller, (former adviser to Denis Healey and Gerald Kaufman): A Private View
It could become a pub quiz question: who was the first British prime minister to sell himself to a foreign power? It would be too easy to guess the answer — Tony Blair, who recently signed a multimillion pound contract to advise President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. He has reportedly opened an office in the capital, Astana.
Other than the president, no-one knows what advice Mr Blair is giving. His client does not need any advice on winning elections: grateful Kazakhs gave him over 95 per cent of their votes in their last presidential elections in April this year. His party already holds all the seats in parliament. Some media reports suggest that he is advising on financial institutions.
According to other reports, he is helping the president prepare a bid for next year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Again, Tony Blair seems a strange source of advice, until one remembers that the prize was once given to Henry Kissinger.
As with other British ex-politicians, Tony Blair’s paid activities in Kazakhstan are virtually beyond any public scrutiny or control. They are not mentioned on the website of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), the fangless watchdog over ex-ministers who sell their services in the marketplace.
Since Tony Blair is not a peer, he did not have to supply the minimal and haphazard information required for the Register of Lords Interests. He did not have to notify the Foreign Office of his Kazakh appointment and it is not mentioned on the website of our local embassy.
Curiously, Tony Blair may face greater scrutiny in the United States than in our own country. If he helps the Kazakhs there in any way, he is potentially liable to register as their agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.
This wide-ranging law was originally designed to combat Nazi and Soviet agents: it is piquant to think that it might catch Tony Blair and positively delicious to imagine him receiving a late-night visit from the FBI.
Whatever Tony Blair is doing in Kazakhstan, he should stop it and hand back the money. It does no good to our country and our political system — and it is in very bad taste.
Whether he likes it or not, Tony Blair is taking sides in the internal politics of Kazakhstan, which are murky and dangerous for an amateur outsider. He has become a trophy for the ruling president and a figure of contempt for the opposition.
As North Africa has proved, even very long-running rulers can eventually fall, and if that happened in Kazakhstan (a country of great strategic importance) Tony Blair will have harmed our country’s relationship with the replacement government.
But while President Nazarbayev is in power, it must strengthen his ego and his authority in any discussions with our country to have a former premier in his pocket. Whether he likes it or not, Tony Blair will diminish the authority, and in all probability the access, of our ambassador in Astana, David Moran.
If Tony Blair gives the president any advice on how to deal with this country he will be approaching the frontiers of treason. Selling himself to a foreign ruler for any purpose at all seems hard to reconcile with his lifelong oath of loyalty to the Queen and her successors as a privy councillor. Its language is orotund and opaque but its tenor and general purpose are clear.
It ends: “You will to your uttermost bear faith and allegiance unto the Queen’s Majesty; and will assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences, and authorities, granted to Her Majesty, and annexed to the crown by acts of parliament, or otherwise, against all foreign princes, persons, prelates, states, or potentates. And generally in all things you will do as a faithful and true servant ought to do to Her Majesty. So help you God.”
Tony Blair does not care much about history unless he can invent it, but if he did take this oath seriously it would warn him against trying to serve two sovereigns and putting himself in the pay of any foreign state or potentate. If the oath means nothing to him, Tony Blair should reflect on the impact on the image of our country when a holder of its highest office hawks himself about to foreign governments. What message does it send to disenchanted British voters who already believe that their politicians are only interested in money?
In recent articles I have called for the strengthening of ACOBA and of the Lords Register of Interests to give the British people more information about ex-politicians’ money and more influence over how they can earn it.
After Tony Blair’s Astana adventure, I think we need to go one step further. No ex-minister should be allowed to work for any foreign ruler or government or state agency without the prior approval of the Queen-in-Council, including the prime minister and foreign secretary of the day.
There should be a presumption against any approval, although an ex-minister should be allowed to do voluntary service in a poor country, or to serve as an independent peace envoy or for other humanitarian purposes. That would not bar any ex-minister from joining an international body or a non-governmental organisation.
Without such reforms, our country will see an uncontrolled marketplace for ex-ministers. On second thoughts, maybe that’s no bad thing. Given the recent record of British government, with many more failures and disasters than success stories, it is surprising that such a market exists.
Plenty of voters might be happy to sell ex-ministers to any foreign country to make a bid for them. Or even current ones. If Kazakhstan wants to take anyone from this government, I’ve got a little list and they’d none of them be missed.
A former adviser to Denis Healey and Gerald Kaufman, Richard Heller’s advice has never been sought by any foreign government.
26 Jan 2012: Tony Blair’s fortune to treble to £45million next year
Friends of the pair have told the Sunday Mirror Mr Blair – who will be 57 on the expected General Election date of May 6 – wants to build up a “substantial” retirement nest egg before he hits 60.
His earnings this year alone could hit £15million, on top of the estimated £15million he has raked in since standing aside as PM in 2007. A further £15million next year through Mr Blair’s jobs, speeches and expanding property empire would take his estimated family fortune to £45million.
A friend of Mr Blair’s said: “Tony spent weeks preparing for his appearance at the Iraq inquiry, often getting up at 6am to start work. “Now that is out of the way, he wants to focus on his unpaid job as Middle East peace envoy and earning serious money in his other roles before he retires. “Many of Tony and Cherie’s friends now are extremely wealthy and they both enjoy moving in those sort of social circles. But that takes serious cash.”
Mr Blair’s millions are paid into a complex network of companies involving up to 12 different bodies – making his exact riches hard to calculate. But a Sunday Mirror probe has unravelled many of the sources behind his growing wealth.
The Blairs have six luxury homes worth more than £14million – the latest was bought for £1.13million cash last September. Their main home is a £4.5million mansion – bought for £3.6million – near Hyde Park in London. They extended that property by buying an £800,000 mews house behind it.
The Blairs’ country home is a Grade I listed pile, once owned by Sir John Gielgud, worth an estimated £6million. There is the infamous apartment in Bristol, bought by Cherie with the help of Aussie conman Peter Foster, for her eldest son Euan while he was at university. It is now worth an estimated £300,000. The latest purchase is a £1.13million London mews house bought for second son Nicky. Mr Blair’s constituency home in County Durham was put up for sale last year for £300,000 – 10 times what the couple paid for it in 1983 when he became MP for Sedgefield.
The former PM also has a number of highly paid jobs which bring in between £5million and £9million a year. His latest money-spinning contract – a role with hedge fund firm Lansdowne Partners – is expected to earn him £250,000 for just four speeches.
Mr Blair also has a £2.5million annual deal with JP Morgan, to “explore business opportunities in Libya”.
He has a £2million deal with Zurich Financial Services and has been signed up by Random House to publish his diaries for £4.6million.
Mr Blair also earns between £50,000 and £170,000 for making a speech. On top of that he gets a prime ministerial pension of about £65,000 a year – and Britain contributes to the cost of his office staff and 24-hour security.
Tony Blair is a great showman – the most talented actor-politician of modern times, with the exception of Bill Clinton.
All his skills of presentation and manipulation were on display on Friday when he appeared before the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. Tanned and wearing make-up, his hair thinner and much greyer than during his last days as Prime Minister, he performed brilliantly. But it was a performance all the same. He was in control, as fluent and articulate as when he was making the case for war in 2002. He seemed to have the five committee members just where he wanted them – feebly starstruck, helpless to challenge or wound.
Blair spoke with the zeal of a man who believed that he had done the right thing. “Saddam was a monster,” he said. “A threat to the world.” At the end of the long day’s questioning, Blair was asked by Sir John Chilcot, the Whitehall mandarin heading up the inquiry, whether he had any regrets. Any person of compassion would have said that he regretted the deaths of the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq as well as more than 100,000 Iraqis. But Blair turned his answer into another extended riff of self-justification. We have learned important lessons about nation-building, he said, as well as about the threat posed by Iran and al-Qaeda. Sir John pushed him again: “So no regrets?” No, Blair said.
Chilcot is the fourth inquiry into the Iraq war. That there have been so many, each exploring much the same territory, is testament to the war’s bitter legacy. For the Americans, the war was never about whether or not Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction. It was about “regime change”, clear and simple. It was about the taking out of an enemy of the US and of the US’s strategic Middle East ally, Israel – an enemy that also happened to be an oil-rich state.
The al-Qaeda attacks of September 11 2001 on New York’s Twin Towers had created the conditions in which the Americans could complete the unfinished business of the first Gulf War of 1991 and topple the despised Saddam. Post-war British foreign policy has been predicated upon our being America’s number one ally.
But Blair was not compelled to support the Bush regime so unequivocally. After all, in the 60s Labour premier Harold Wilson rightly refused to send British troops to fight in Vietnam, as Australia did. No, Blair chose the course of war because in his view “it was the right thing to do”, and because he believed himself to be on a kind of divine mission.
Remember how at the Labour Party conference of 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks, he had spoken of how the time was right to reorder the world. “This is a moment to seize,” he said. “The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. “Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder the world around us…”
Our soldiers are still dying in distant lands because of Blair’s messianic dream of reordering the world through bloodshed rather than seeking the disarmament of Iraq through consensus and the United Nations.
Blair will go to his grave believing that history will judge him kindly. “I’m ready to meet my Maker and answer for those who have died as a result of my decisions,” he has said. But he will never escape censure on this Earth. He exaggerated the threat that Saddam posed to the UK. His actions brought Islamic terrorism to our streets. He took Britain into its worst foreign policy disaster since the then Suez crisis in 1956.
And the war resulted in a breakdown of trust between the people and the politicians – between those who govern and the rest of us. That is a terrible legacy. the Iraq war was, above all else, Blair’s war. Brown as Chancellor might have signed the cheques to fund it, but ultimately Blair is culpable. I’m sure his Maker is looking forward to that conversation.
But There’s More Cherie Get’s in on the Action
Cherie Blair is being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for a few months’ legal work by Kazakhstan, whose autocratic president employs her husband as an official adviser. Mrs Blair’s law firm Omnia Strategy agreed a deal with Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Justice earlier this year to conduct a review of the country’s “bilateral investment treaties”. The first stage of the review, which was expected to take as little as three months, is worth £120,000, sources have told The Sunday Telegraph.
A second phase of the project is worth a further £200,000 to £250,000 for another three to four months’ work, it is understood. Omnia Strategy, which Mrs Blair set up in 2011, also has an option to complete a third stage of the legal project for the Ministry of Justice at a fee to be decided, according to the source. Mrs Blair is understood normally to charge clients £1,150 an hour but will bill the Kazakh taxpayer at a reduced rate of £975 an hour if the Ministry of Justice, based in the capital Astana, continues to employ Omnia on the legal review into its third stage.
But there’s even more – Tony & Cherie Blair, the oil tycoon and jobs for Blairites in poor Albania
On the face of it, Albania, once the most hardline of Stalinist states and still one of the poorest countries in Europe, seems unlikely to hold much attraction for Tony Blair. But The Telegraph can disclose that the Balkan country, recently discovered to be abundant in oil and gas, appears to be providing rich pickings for a dynasty of Blairites.
This newspaper has already disclosed how Mr Blair is a consultant to Albania’s Labour government. Now it has emerged that his wife Cherie picked up a lucrative legal contract with the previous government; while even the nephew of Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s former spin doctor, has landed himself a job advising the new Albanian prime minister.
Mrs Blair was awarded a contract worth £300,000 to advise the Albanian government after making friends with the wife of the Balkan country’s then prime minister while in Downing Street.
Mrs Blair, best known in the legal world as a human rights lawyer, acted for Albania in a billion dollar oil dispute with an American energy firm.
There’s even more – Tony Blair strikes gold in Mongolia
The former prime minister has negotiated a contract to advise the Mongolian government just as the country strikes it rich from a vast copper and gold mine in the Gobi desert. The Sunday Telegraph can disclose that Mr Blair spent two days in March in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia’s capital, striking the deal with the country’s president and prime minister.
His diplomatic skills will be needed in a country undergoing a rapid economic transformation. The Mongolian government has been in dispute with Rio Tinto, the Anglo-Australian mining conglomerate, over the operation of the country’s biggest mine. Sources have suggested Mr Blair was called in to mediate between the two although Mr Blair and Rio Tinto both denied that last night.
The addition of Mongolia to Mr Blair’s portfolio will bolster the income of Mr Blair’s Government Advisory Practice, which operates as part of Tony Blair Associates, “the umbrella organisation” for Mr Blair’s “commercial operations”.
Investigations have shown Mr Blair and his team of consultants are now paid millions of pounds to advise governments in;
Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Colombia, Brazil, Albania, Malawi, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Liberia, Guinea and Libya