The Financial Times entitled its recent lengthy interview with Tony Blair ‘Waiting in the Wings’. Blair, though claiming to be all-consumed by his current Middle East job, also declared himself ready to drop it like a hot brick if only someone would offer him the top job at the EU, the IMF or the World Bank. He angrily dismissed the notion that he wanted to be rich – he’s earning £20 million a year – and said the whole point ‘is not to make money, it’s to make a difference’.
Yet the FT also spoke to friends of Blair who are worried that he’s taking money from despotic governments like Kazakhstan’s, that he’s rushing around doing a lot of nothing, that he lacks focus and there is no one to tell him so. ‘He would really like to be the centre of attention again’ in Britain, one ‘long-time ally’ said. According to another friend, ‘he feels like an alien in his own country. He feels despised – and that is very difficult for him.’ Meanwhile, his aides say, he charges up to $300,000 for a speech, so even if he’s no longer being listened to in Britain his words are still, well, almost golden.
I happen to know the man who negotiated for Blair to visit Kazakhstan a few years ago at the behest of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nazarbayev was recently re-elected with 95 per cent of the vote, though it helped that he was the only real candidate. He and his family, who run many businesses in Kazakhstan, are believed to have salted away more than $1 billion of oil revenue into their private accounts. They have been investigated by various Western governments for allegations of bribery, money-laundering and assassination, not to mention human rights abuses.
But Nazarbayev is used to getting what he wants and on this occasion, my informant told me in 2010, his whim was to have Blair come to dinner, make a speech in which he said he and the president shared the same philosophy and be photographed together. So my informant rang Blair’s people and offered $250,000 for Blair to come and perform. Sorry, he was told: Tony is very busy. But he must have said something right. In October 2011 Blair was hired as a consultant to attract new investment to the steppes. The fee was unspecified, though one of Nazarbayev’s advisers said: ‘I can confirm that no one consults anyone for free and a person of Blair’s level naturally works for money.’ In May he addressed students at Astana university on the need for Kazakhstan ‘to evolve and reform’.
The final paragraph of this post was amended on 13 July to correct some inaccuracies pointed out by the Office of Tony Blair.