How can we persuade our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to devote a little more time to making money for himself and rather less time for his many charitable concerns? There is only so much a man should be expected to give, especially after a lifetime of public service.
We have forgotten too quickly, I think, that he gave of himself — relentlessly and for a pittance — when he led this country for more than decade. It seems that now he is unable to get out of the habit and I am worried that he may well end up in penury, unless we can get the message across to him: Tony, just for once, think of yourself. Or if you can’t do that, at least think of Cherie. It is loathsome to think that this remarkable woman might be forced one day to take in washing, or to offer herself as au pair, just to help make ends meet. But that’s the way things are going.
Mr Blair has stated on several occasions that ‘two thirds’ of his present work is done ‘pro bono’. This is nothing to do with that talented and likeable chap who sings for the pop group U2 and who also, of course, gives of himself to charitable concerns far too readily and with little thought for himself. No: it means, apparently, ‘for free’.
I have been worried about Mr Blair’s finances for a while now, but these fears were heightened when the newspapers reported his latest tax bill. Apparently he generated wealth in excess of twelve million pounds — but, as he has explained, two thirds of this seems to have been spent in some typically selfless, if mysterious, fashion, because he paid only £315,000 in tax. Aside from the 26 people he employs and the rent on his office buildings, which are situated, necessarily for a man of his stature, in Mayfair, somewhere in the region of £8 million simply disappeared, or has not been explained.
The obvious answer is that he has given it all away to the deserving poor — that’s the sort of thing you’d expect from Tony. Some gutter newspapers have complained that this might not be the case at all and that he has somehow salted it away — perfectly legally, they always add — for personal use. But this cannot be true. I remember Mr Blair back in 1994 warning us all of a shocking business which needed to be sorted out pronto: ‘For those who can employ the right accountants, the tax system is a haven of scams, perks, City deals and profits.’
You can say what you like about Tony Blair, but he was always a pretty straight kind of guy. It cannot be the case, as some have suggested, that he has at last found that ‘right accountant’, in the form of the expensive firm KPMG. I mean yes, he does lodge his accounts with KPMG, but there’s no crime in that. I’m sure they wouldn’t advise him to take advantage of tax avoidance scams, perks, etc. And even if they did, I’m sure he would tell them: ‘Get thee hence!’
So the problem is not the money coming in, it’s the proportion of it which Tony feels he needs to give away. And you have to say, he has been relentless in getting the money in, all the better to perform his good works. He has a labyrinthine system of companies — some of them called Windrush, some of them called Firerush, some of them known only by strange and enigmatic agglomerations of letters and numbers and not required to provide full accounts etc — through which the money flows. At least 12 different legal entities which some moaning minnies think should be a bit more ‘transparent’, to use the weasel word; but this is Tony’s business, not yours — so keep your nose out.
And then you think what Tony has gone through to earn money for these mysterious third parties and you marvel at his ability, firstly for entrepreneurial chutzpah and secondly for being able to hold his nose as he conducts business — all for the benefit of others. I don’t mean so much the £2 million per annum he receives as ‘Tony Blair Associates’ for advising the bankers Morgan Stanley: that’s a straightforward deal, and cheap at the price, I reckon. Or his other deal, reputedly worth only £500k per annum, which he gets from a Swiss insurance firm which he has kindly helped out. I mean the sort of people with whom he has been forced to do other sorts of business: the money he is paid for advising the not entirely democratic Kuwaiti government, for example. Or the two million quid he got for helping out the Kazakhstan government when they were shooting protestors dead in the streets late last year.
Obviously, it will have stuck in his craw that he was lending his support to a fairly nasty regime, and he may even have had some sympathy with the opposition protestors who begged him to cease his connection with their government. But he listened to their protests, considered them for a long while, and then told them to get stuffed. Someone has to advise the Kazakhs, don’t they? And far better it’s someone with his experience and sense of moral rectitude, no matter how many civilians are murdered. You have to be pragmatic about stuff like this. That’s the message. He also picked up a useful cheque for advising a South Korean oil firm about their dealings in the Middle East. He cannot have enjoyed making money as a partial consequence of having launched a war; but he did it, because he knew it was the right thing to do.
Still, I return to the point: he is clearly giving too much money away, even if we don’t know precisely to whom. The one bright spot is that at least he gets £150,000 every year from the British taxpayer for his pension and offices; if all else fails, he can always fall back on that. Double it, I say.