Blame Tony Blair for Labour’s new stupidity about wealth

He’d just about sold the idea that businesses weren’t intrinsically evil. Then he started one of his own…

24 January 2015

9:00 AM

24 January 2015

9:00 AM

Peter Mandelson’s famous quote about New Labour being intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich has a suffix that is often mischievously omitted: he added ‘so long as they pay their taxes’.

But there are a few more things which many Labour members would have put on the end: so long as you don’t earn it by advising Central Asian dictatorships, so long as you don’t hang around with Russian oligarchs, so long as you don’t make it from the Saudis.

Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson got filthy rich all right. But the whiff they gave off while doing so has only served to regenerate a very Old Labour disgust of wealth. This week, Peter Mandelson became the latest Labour figure to criticise Ed Balls’s mansion tax, calling it ‘crude’ and ‘short-termist’. The issue threatens to spark a Labour civil war over envy politics and wealth. The painstaking efforts of Tony Blair to turn his party from a socialist one to a socially democratic one, to convince the faithful that profit is not a dirty word but the source of the tax revenues which pay for social programmes, are in danger of ultimately showing for nothing.

In Ed’s Labour, profit once again seems to be something you bring in on your shoe. The default position is anti-business: enterprise is a problem which has to be contained, not the lifeblood of the economy. Miliband has no one with business experience, just lawyers and professional politicians.

For Tony Blair, it is a case of all that hard work — gone. All those aspirational voters frightened away again. He must have felt some sadness as he predicted, in a recent interview, that the coming election would be one where ‘a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result’.

But then he might reflect that he shares some of the blame for the turnaround in Labour’s attitude to wealth. Imagine that you are a young Labour activist still forming your opinions, trying to reconcile grubby capitalism with socialist ideals and find your personal third way. There are lots of enterprises which you might identify with as combining profit with a sense of what Blair used to call ‘social justice’. You might be drawn to social media, for example: no workers or animals harmed in that. Or you might look to green energy: who would begrudge a small fortune to someone who comes up with a practical way to slash carbon emissions? Or ethical tourism, or a fair-trade supermarket.

What probably won’t feature in your idea of the acceptable face of capitalism is Tony Blair Associates, not with its £8 million in fees from advising Kazakhstan dictator Nursultan Nazarbeyev. You will balk even more to learn that Blair, a great champion of efforts to combat climate change, is raking it in from the oil industry; not only that, but through ventures with autocratic governments in Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia.

What especially offends about Blair’s new career as a roving adviser to some of the world’s least democratic governments is the sense that he is exploiting contacts which he made as prime minister. There is a provision by which former prime ministers must clear business interests with parliamentary authorities, but it only lasts two years.

Blair may argue that, now the period is up, he is as entitled to make hay as any other citizen. But then if he considers himself just another private citizen, why is he still claiming a £115,000 a year allowance to help him fulfil his duties as a former prime minister? He wants to rid himself of all constraints and yet still enjoy the trappings of his former office. That is having your Kazakhstani fried honey cake and eating it.

It is as if Edward Heath had gone on to make a mint in the international panda trade, or Jim Callaghan had gone off to promote the Mustique tourist business. No one has found anything illegal in what Blair is up to, but somehow it still doesn’t seem right.

If I were a Kazakhstan taxpayer I think I would feel still less impressed. Blair has forged a career in a profession which he helped to create: that of the highly paid outside consultant to government. His business is not quite private sector and not quite public sector but in a strange nowhereland between the two. Think of all those council executives, all those NHS managers who left with large pay-offs and then appeared back, as consultants at thousands a day, in what looked remarkably like their old jobs.

No wonder Labour’s faithful have once again taken against private enterprise. The man who tried so hard to sell it to them has gone on to espouse one of its less attractive sides: private enrichment from public administration, and from dictatorships to boot.

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  • James S

    “But there are a few more things which many Labour members would have put on the end:” Why stop there! We could so easily go on… Or so long as you don’t make it in healthcare, or education, or any low margin business which employs lots of people on low wages. So, really the public sector (a la Kinnock) is where one’s fortune really should be made.

  • Peter Stroud

    Clearly, Blair has demonstrated that he is completely devoid of principles. The fact that this money grubbing charlatan is still claiming £150k of tax payer’s money, in addition to the millions made in pretty unprincipled dealings, says it all.

    • Helen of Troy

      Rubbish. Any man that would stand up to the nightmare tyranny of Saddamite Iraq is hardly a man ‘completely devoid of principles’. I can’t stand his party and I don’t like what he did in Britain. But give the man some credit, where it’s due.

      • Taizu3 .

        Weapons of mass destruction that did not exist and the carnage that followed is the legacy Tony Blair left the UK

        • Helen of Troy

          Considering the carnage that had happened on 9/11, we had to hit back — and I hope you include in your calculations the ‘carnage’ that the psychotic Husseins were inflicting on the Iraqi people, at the same time*. As for WMDs, we had plenty of reason to fight even without them — but mistaken intelligence is not a lie, and it is childish to think that it is. Furthermore, Saddam was exactly the kind of tyrant that wanted the world to think he had WMDs, and he used them against the Kurds. To this day, I’m not sure what the truth is. I would say that more accurately, none were found: they might well have existed and been moved, say, to Syria. And a ‘WMD’ that is bred in a laboratory is disease — which is why the president had the troops vaccinated against smallpox and people worried about getting anthrax in their mail. Not being able to locate a lab or its disease germs does not mean that they don’t exist.

          *Hussein, the president of Iraq from 1979 until 2003… gained international notoriety for torturing and murdering thousands of his own people’. http://history1900s.about.com/od/saddamhussein/a/husseincrimes.htm

          • ArthurSparknottle


            I can barely believe anyone on the planet would now consider the 2003 invasion of Iraq a good idea. Do you enjoy having ISIS controling half of Iraq? Are you for real?

            How is it possible that there are still people with access to information about the world who think that Saddam Hussein had anything at all to do with 9/11 or al-Queda? It is indeed astonishing that anyone could write what you did.

          • MaSek12

            Helen is either a] a jewbot or b] an idiot or c] both.

          • Fraziel

            Yup, it beggars belief.

          • Hitting back???
            What planet are you on?
            There’s a big difference between mistaken intelligence and and a sexed up dodgy dossier.
            And worst of all, the overall war aim failed – it may have removed nasty old Saddam, but to suggest it has made things better or safer for anyone in the West is lunacy.

          • Fraziel

            You clearly dont read much do you. It is mind boggling that anyone in this country thinks we were justified in going into Iraq. No WMD’s, 600000 civilians dead and Iraq had absolutely nothing what so ever to do with 9/11 and wasnt inolved in terrorism or training terrorists.

            Sure Saddam wasnt a nice guy and he killed several thousand people but so did Pinochet and so do/have lots of despots and we have eitehr supported them or left them to it.

            Kids could at least go to school ad people could shop down the local market without fear of kidnap or being blown up in a sectarian war, as is the case now.

            We are not the worlds police and considering what is going on there now with Isis it beggars belief that anyone could write or believe what you have written. Complete ignorant garbage about sums it up.

      • Credit where it’s due????????????????????
        I’d suggest that contextually, 99% of all Iraqis were dramatically better off with dear old Saddam than they are (assuming they’re still alive!!) following his removal.
        It’s not even as though Anthony told the truth about the reasons for his illegal intervention – the man is deservedly a pariah.

      • Peter Shaw

        Give me a break….Principles for invading Iraq….he knew this would garner support for his commercial ventures in the US….and around the world. There is no principle in this man…

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    Heath did, in fact, make a great deal of money as an apologist for the Chinese Politburo. His defence of the Tiananmen Square massacre was especially egregious.

  • Bert

    Daily, via the BBC or its newspaper arm The Guardian, we are told how wealth, and power is being concentrated in the top1%.
    Its ironic that New Labour Blair is the personification of this power and wealth grab.

    • davidshort10

      They never tell us that the top 20pc which includes BBC executives and extremely overpaid Grauniad hacks (£ per reader of the rag with plummetting circulation must be very high) also own more than 80pc of the rest. The 1pc versus 99pc of the world just doesn’t make sense because probably 60pc + of the world’s population have almost nothing at all. But that didn’t stop daft Peston saying the wealth gap is higher than ever before, as if he didn’t know that almost everyone even in the UK as recently as the 50s had fuck all, which is why people could leave their doors unlocked.

    • ArthurSparknottle

      Apparently, you are part of the one percent if you own just about any semi or terraced house in London. What is more, if you earn a decent wage in Britain but find yourself in negative equity -say because you live in Northern Ireland, then you are part of the opposite one percent – the poorest of the poor, and are somehow worse off than people living in sub-Saharan Africa. Such is the quality of the ‘wonderful’ Oxfam ‘research’. Basicly – the whole sound bite is nonsense.

    • ArthurSparknottle

      The Oxfam claim is bunk and based on deliberate statistical distortion. The following is from the BBC News website:

      “The BBC’s head of statistics, Anthony Reuben, said in order to be part of the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population, an individual would need to be worth just over half a million pounds.

      “So it is not necessarily talking about people who own yachts and ski chalets. Owning an average house in London (without a mortgage) would just about put you in the 1%. ”

      He also noted that Oxfam had chosen to use figures which showed the disparity between the 1% and the rest of the world in the worst light.

      “From 2000 until 2009, the proportion of wealth held by the wealthiest 1% fell every year. From 2010 until 2014 it rose every year. Oxfam has taken the figures since 2010 and used them to extrapolate what will happen in the coming years. Clearly, that is the methodology that will make inequality look the most severe,” he added.”


  • rtj1211

    Everyone sets their rubicon somewhere. Hitler maybe didn’t, but even he stopped at genocide of Jews without extracting gold from their teeth first…….

    What you’re saying is that money justifies anything.

    Well, when your children’s life and health is ruined by becoming coke fiends or crackheads, which some people become inordinately rich by peddling, then maybe you’ll learn why principles are important…….

    • sorry, but this is just wrong, please remove that first paragraph

    • WFB56

      Wow, this is really out there – and I’m not sure where “there” might be.

    • Kennybhoy

      Jesus wept…

  • Eyesee

    In what way does a Left wing elite not wish to enrich itself running the country and when did dictatorship trouble them? Both are the foundations of what Miliband and his cohort seek to impose here. Blair has never really tried to hide what an odious creature he is. He told a farmer once he didn’t care about him, because he knew he wouldn’t vote for him. Is that what is expected of a Prime Minister of Great Britain, that they only repay people who vote for them?

  • mikewaller

    There is a fundamental dishonesty about this piece. Had it been entitled “The global hypocrisy of Tony Blair” it would have been well made; but what it is actually doing is using Blair to attack the whole idea of income redistribution.

    This morning someone on Radio 4 said that anxieties about inequality have been seriously overstated because the rise of China in particular has meant that, globally, inequality has actually diminished. However, my feeling is that what we are actually watching is a see-saw in transition, momentarily almost level, as the former downside rises to becomes the upside. The implications of this on the standard of living for “ordinary” people in the West will be profound. As a commentator in the late 1990s said about a fully globalised economy “….. if you are a coolie, expect to be on coolie wages”. If this becomes reality, we have to question whether fully liberalised, low taxation economies will be fit for purpose or even democratically viable. This is an issue that requires the most serious consideration, not sidelining by overwrought critiques of particular individuals.

    • WFB56

      The anxieties about inequality have been serious overstated. The only interesting thing you have to say is that this was on Radio 4, a surprise that they would allow a deviation from their party line.

      • mikewaller

        I suspect you have no real idea of what before very long is going to hit you. The rise of smaller non-establishment parties across Europe is indicative of a deep dissatisfaction with the way in which the tide is moving against ordinary people. Yet that tide is largely unstoppable. Blair swept in on a tide of optimism; that ended in bitter recriminations. The great hope now that is these “new” parties will deliver; they won’t. What happens then?

        BTW, in my opinion, one Robert Peston is worth a ship-load of Specky economic hardmen. So if that cap fits, wear it.

        • WFB56

          I think that its obvious that you have no idea what you are talking about – it goes beyond suspicion – and the suggestion that notions of inequality are driving populist movements is wrong.
          Populist movements are being driven by the new aristocracy, senior politicians, senior civil servants and the immovable crowd of quangocrats. Your class envy makes you think that the villains are people who have succeeded in life, that’s wrong; its people who make other people unreasonably bend to their will.

          • Des Demona

            ”and the suggestion that notions of inequality are driving populist movements is wrong. ”
            A recent IFS report has highlighted that the poorest have borne the biggest austerity burden in terms of percentage of income.
            The OECD and the IMF are both at Davos arguing that inequality is one of the biggest threats to economic growth.
            Do they have ”class envy” (whatever that is other than a nice buzz word) or are they talking economic realities?

          • mikewaller

            It is not notions of inequality; it is the simple fact that for most folks the going has got considerably tougher and no matter who they vote for, it will get more so. If you think that they will react to that by saying “I am having a hard time but when I think of all those billionaires, I get a warm glow”, you’re cuckoo. Western democracy has been an informal pact whereby the masses did not complain much about inequalities so long as they got steadily improving living standards. As globalisation and technology transfers are putting pay to the latter, all bets are off on the former.

            Your notion that all you need to achieve your full potential is to throw off an out of touch leadership class is self-serving nonsense. That leadership have a better grasp of the new realities than you do. The only trouble is that they are too chicken to tell you. They know that your ego-needs will send you into meltdown, a very ineffective way of garnering votes!

          • WFB56

            At no time did I suggest that billionaires or anyone else is loved by the general public. A typical gratuitous misstatement by someone without a coherent argument to offer.

            That’s closely followed by an attempt to argue that the ruling government elite is in fact entitled to tell everyone else what to do and that somehow there is a mass conspiracy amongst them to keep the “little guy” and everyone else from knowing the bleak future that awaits them.

            The first rule of politics is “You can’t argue with an ignorant man”. As a former member of the ruling elite that you foolishly cherish I now recall why it was so important to follow that rule.

          • mikewaller

            That is one way of dressing up a drubbing. And, by the way, I don’t cherish the ruling elite as my use of the word “chicken” made clear. It is just that they inevitably have exposure to the new word realities to an extent that is beyond that of the little man, a category in which – whatever your past – I include you..

          • Ed_Burroughs

            That isn’t true though. The capital goods in the possession of the the typical peasant are appreciably greater than when Blair’s “tide of optimism” swept over us. That has everything to do with technology and nothing to do with self serving politicians, but the fact remains.

          • mrsjosephinehydehartley

            But what are capital goods? Something that,once bought and paid for, becomes an asset? The trouble with new technologies and social change, to me at least, is that the buying of certain so-called goods is never completed somehow- because the goods seem to become obsolete and require constant updating and renewal.not only that, but the very transaction ie the buying of some goods never seems to end but goes on and on ..like a scheme.

            Customers who quite rightfully should expect any free market to let us ” buy as you go” find we can only”pay as you go”- because of the way modern transaction processes are set up . nowadays it’s a job to get any purchase done and dusted, I find.

          • mikewaller

            The biggest “capital good” ordinary folks are ever likely to secure is a home and home ownership is now indisputably in decline. Yes ordinary folk – on average – do have more gizmos but that has to do with price as much as technology. About five years ago Tesco was selling a foreign-made breakfast set which comprised an electric kettle, a toaster and some kind of coffee maker – all for £20. Great for filling the poor man’s home with gizmos but crap in terms of his future employment.

  • Helen of Troy

    Labour: chronically stupid, never learns the lesson, always acts from the most base resentful childish emotion.

    Right, so I want to be well-off, if not nearly as rich as many Labour MPs. I’ll be staying in America, then. They can say goodbye to the good — and the money — I would have brought, and thousands like me — the stupid oafs.

  • WFB56

    It is entirely misleading to suggest that former government employees who then contract back to the same or other governments are in the private sector. It is a much clearer point if you simply ask who pays the bill? If the bill for their “services” is paid by taxpayers and not from the sale of goods and services to willing customers, they are still at the public trough and should be identified as such.

  • answeeney

    I’m with Tony, aka Bliar. He tried to change things but failed because, let’s face it, he had to work with Brown. And then there was also Balls and wasisface Milli something the geek. These people are byond reasoning. What’s more the average political commentary encourages five year old children to contradict their parents views and then shop them if they refuse to agree.

    Why wouldn’t an intelligent adult just say f**k you, I’m going to make as much money as I can and escape from this sh*thole even if I did help create it?

  • Blander Slurs
  • Grandad9

    There are still some of us in the Labour Party who adhere to the principles of Socialism. Sadly, because people can’t get off their fat backsides and come to meetings, idiots, who conform to New Labour, control. Stop criticising and get to meetings, it’s our party not theirs.

  • Mukkinese

    “Stupidity about wealth”.

    When less than 0.1% of people own more than 90% of the wealth then something is wrong.

    Just who do you think is going to keep buying the things that make all those lovely profits? The continued levels of high spending have been propped up by easy credit, but that is not infinite. Sooner or later even our banks will stop lending money that they know cannot be paid back.

    Unless there is a significant rebalancing of incomes, across the board, the whole capitalist system will collapse and hordes of money in foreign bank vaults will be of little use then.

    The “Stupidity about wealth” is not Labour’s, it is that of the wilfully blind “establishment” who do not want to see what is really happening under their noses…

  • Peter Shaw

    Tony Blair is the most amoral man on god’s earth. He plundered the UK and turned it into a home for Jihadists and benefit claimants…all the time hard working people struggle to survive. He took us into two illegal wars with a dodgy dossier of information that persuaded Parliament to approve intervention. He gave into and then supported organizations and people such as the IRA and Colonel Gaddafi. He is now profiteering from his former office by supporting and aiding the most corrupt countries and organisations in the world. This man should be in the dock and facing trial. His ill gotten gains should be seized by the state and distributed to all the wounded service men and women that went to Iraq and Afghanistan..