Inside the shadowy (and very lucrative) world of Blair Inc: How the ex-PM has become a one-man multinational money-making machine.
By Edward Heathcoat-amory
So, as the job of European President apparently recedes from Tony Blair’s grasp, should we feel sorry for our former prime minister, sitting at home watching his dreams of returning to the world stage turn to ashes?
Perhaps not. In fact, there is every reason to believe that Mr Blair might be rather relieved if he doesn’t have to go to Brussels, because taking the job would have meant renouncing his current role as a one-man multinational money-making machine.
If you were to take Mr Blair’s activities at his own evaluation, you would believe he divides his time between trying to save the world in the Middle East as the representative to that troubled region from the UN, the U.S., Europe and Russia; running his own faith and sports foundations in London; and organising various other charitable endeavours.
But the truth is a lot more complicated – and vastly more lucrative – than that.
At a conservative estimate, he has made £15million from his commercial activities since stepping down as prime minister in 2007, and there is every sign that his earning capacity is increasing.
He remains in demand as a £100,000-a-time international speaker, he has contracts to provide advice with several banking institutions, he is writing his memoirs, and he has established Tony Blair Associates (TBA) to provide advice to foreign governments for money.
There is nothing wrong with all this – except that he is pursuing his commercial interests so closely in tandem with his charitable work and job as an envoy to the Middle East that it is hard to see where the not-for-profit element ends and his own personal bank account begins.
As a friend told the Financial Times, ‘if Mr Blair emerged from a meeting with an Arab emir having won a donation to the Palestinians, a donation to the Tony Blair faith foundation, and a consultancy fee, that would be a “good trip”.’
And so far this year, he’s been to more than 20 countries.
All of this activity is masterminded by an astonishing 80 staff, all working from a splendid suite in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, conveniently located near to the American embassy.
This seems appropriate because it is Mr Blair’s close connection with America, stemming from his support for them in invading Iraq and Afghanistan, that underpins much of his earning ability, not only as a lucrative speechmaker in the U.S., but because he is known to have the ear of those who run the world’s most powerful nation.
At the heart of his web of overlapping and conflicting interests is Tony Blair Associates, a consultancy, modelled on a foundation set up by Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State, which has made Kissinger very wealthy.
A friend told a Sunday newspaper recently: ‘TBA has been set up to make money from foreign governments and companies. There’s a focus on the Middle East, because that is where the money is.’
And Mr Blair is in the Middle East regularly, in his peace envoy role, with all expenses picked up by taxpayers around the world and instant access to any foreign potentate he cares to see. Which is, as it turns out, very helpful for his business interests.
On January 17 this year, he went to hold talks with King Adbullah of Saudi Arabia on the situation in the Gaza strip. With him on the trip was his old chief of staff from No 10, Jonathan Powell, who has no formal role in connection with his official activities, but just happens to have joined the staff of Tony Blair Associates.
And after meeting the king, Powell and his boss both went to see Prince Alwaleed, the richest businessman in the Middle East, worth at least £15billion. The prince is also chairman of the Kingdom Holding Company.
While there is no sign that Blair and Powell have so far been able to secure a consultancy contract with the Saudis, they were certainly more successful when, shortly afterwards, they visited Kuwait.
On January 26 they met the emir, Sheik al-Sabah, with Blair in his peace envoy role, and Powell in attendance. A few weeks later it was announced that TBA had been signed up to advise Kuwait on ‘good governance’ for a seven-figure sum.
It’s a similar story in Abu Dhabi, where Mr Blair has been numerous times since quitting as PM. Sheik Mohammed, the ruler, has signed up TBA to advise his state investment fund, Mubadala, as it goes round the world buying up assets.
Mr Blair’s advisers vigorously reject suggestions of any conflict of interest in these situations, but it’s hard to see how their master’s roles can be disentangled.
In addition to his TBA work, he is an adviser to U.S. investment bank JP Morgan, and Zurich Financial Services, on annual fees reported to be £2.5million. Incidentally, Jonathan Powell works for rival investment bank Morgan Stanley. No doubt they can compare notes.
This May, in his role as peace envoy, Blair met the education minister of the United Arab Emirates. On the same day, he met that luminary’s cabinet colleague, the finance minister, but this time wearing his JP Morgan commercial hat.
Another middle eastern state which he has visited on behalf of JP Morgan is Libya, a country whose international rehabilitation was one of Mr Blair’s obsessions as PM.
Oliver Miles, a former ambassador to Libya, told the Financial Times that Mr Blair had visited the country ‘a number of times’ since departing Downing Street, and ‘he certainly has a relationship with both the leader (Gaddafi) and the leader’s son’.
Some of Mr Blair’s former political opponents are concerned about the nature of that relationship, as Libya remains a controversial and potentially dangerous country. Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski, who chairs the all-party Commons committee on Libya, calls it ‘highly inappropriate given his unique position as a former prime minister and the fact that we don’t know what that business is’.
But it’s not only Mr Blair’s commercial interests that are surprisingly complicated – his charitable endeavours are equally hard to disentangle.
His work in Africa – a project to help the presidents of Sierra Leone and Rwanda – has yet to be given official charitable status, and for the moment is being largely funded by substantial grants from Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, and Lord Sainsbury, former science minister in Mr Blair’s government, who have given £1.5million each through their charitable foundations.
This money, however, has – according to a Financial Times investigation – been channelled through one of a large number of profit-making partnerships and private companies established by Mr Blair; this one is called Windrush No3. The funding process is arcane, adding to the air of mystery and secrecy that surrounds all of Mr Blair’s current activities.
His office insists that its activities in Africa are ‘entirely not for profit’, although these charitable funds may help fund Mr Blair’s offices.
And that won’t be cheap, as he hired his Grosvenor Square HQ at the very top of the property market and the cost of the eight years remaining on the lease is believed to be £4.4million, not to mention the salaries of his huge staff.
The final part of this jigsaw of interests is Mr Blair’s memoirs and speeches. He received an advance of £4.6million for the book, and is believed to be making steady progress on it.
As for the speechmaking, he is understood to have received a £600,000 ‘signing-on fee’ from the Washington Speaker Bureau that organises his engagements, and each speech made for them generates another large fee.
His 36-hour, two-lecture tour of the Philippines this year netted him, according to the organiser, £240,000 plus expenses. And naturally, he met the Philippine president while he was there, and stayed with the British ambassador, mixing as always the different sides of his working life.
So why all this frenetic activity? Well, Mr Blair knows that his celebrity is a declining asset, so he needs to make as much money as quickly as possible.
And at home, his wife is busy spending the money, building up a £12million portfolio of properties, including large houses in London and the country and contributions towards smart homes for their sons, Nicky and Euan.
Of course, these homes have to be furnished; it was recently revealed that Cherie had spent £250,000 on Georgian and Regency furniture for their country residence.
He is making the money, and his wife is spending it. All of which would come to an abrupt end if he became President of Europe.
So despite the attractions of a job in which he would once more have had the ability to ‘stop traffic’ in foreign capitals, there are good grounds for believing that he might prefer to keep things just the way they are.
He’s official enough to keep his credibility and his contacts, and commercial enough to be making a fortune. It’s the new Blairite Third Way.