“Let me ask you one question, is your money that good? Will it buy you forgiveness? Do you think that it could?” (Bob Dylan, Masters of War.)
Sometimes a topic simply will not go away. These weeks, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, Q.C., former British Prime Minister, alleged potential war criminal, surreal Middle East Peace Envoy – who led an administration which shared responsibility for, if not quite rivers of blood, bloodied market places, mosques, squares, homes, humans, hospitals, beyond counting – just keeps coming back and back.
Fresh from the Balkans, after accepting a solid gold “Freedom Medal”, Kosovo’s highest Award – from a nation less than a shining example of the rule of law, where streets and the capitol’s main square are named after him,(1) he immediately re-invented himself as best selling author. His book signing is a “must attend” event, at literary emporium Waterstone’s showcase store, in London’s Piccadilly, on 8th September (2) – if you are prepared to relinquish your handbag, laptop, keys, cash, backpack, and other belongings, to a stranger, at the door.
Symbolic, really. Iraq and Afghanistan were stripped of their assets at missile and gun-point. Blair, seemingly, will have armed body guards.
A certain furore has greeted the book signing, for which he reportedly received a £4.6 million advance, on top of the now estimated up to £46 million, since he left office, including from interests in oil exploration in Iraq, over which he is reported to have fought a two year battle with the (UK) parliamentary independent scrutiny committee, to be anything but scrutinised. Details he said, were “commercially sensitive.” You bet. His networks of companies through which his money gushes are, says Mike Warburton, senior partner at tax accountants Grant Thornton : “… opaque. We do not know where the money comes from or where it goes to, but at the end of the chain, you have a company that does not file accounts, so one can only presume it is to keep secret.”
Financial diversities too numerous to mention include : “… taking £90,000 to appear at the opening of a methanol power plant in Azerbaijan last year.”
Three years on from his relatively modest Prime Ministerial salary of under £200,000 a year, his family property portfolio : ” … now contains seven homes worth £14 million, including four in central London. Latest addition is a four-storey, Grade II-listed town house, a snip at just under £1.3million, a few streets away from (their) £3.7million Connaught Square home.”
“His elite security team costs the taxpayer £6 million annually, because he is also accompanied by up to five personal bodyguards while travelling the world.”(3)
However, with Teflon Tony’s latest re-invention of himself as author, has has also re-invented himself as bountiful benefactor.
In recognition of: ” .. the courage and sacrifice the (UK) armed forces demonstrate day in, day out …”, he is, seemingly, to donate the full £4.6 million advance for the book to the armed Services charity,The Royal British Legion, after: ” … having witnessed (Services actions) in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone and Kosovo”, stated a Blair minion, omitting that anything he had witnessed was a carefully orchestrated, literally “blow-in” photo-op, by helicopter, to a mega-fortified base, flanxed by a sizeable personal army and a larger surrounding one. Hardly sleeve-rolling-up, coal face mastery or solidarity. Also unsaid is that arguably, in four out of the five stated places, British troops had no business being, with the Iraq invasion openly declared illegal, even by no less than the former UN Secretary General.
“This is his way of honouring their courage and sacrifice”, added the hireling. “The proceeds will go to the Royal British Legion’s “Battle Back” challenge centre, a project that will provide state-of-the-art rehabilitation services for seriously injured troops returning from the front line”, he clarified.
Whilst the Charity’s Director General expressed his delight at “this very generous offer”, it is worth casting an eye on what Lord Blair of Kut al Amara – as dubbed by Robert Fisk, referring to one of the British army’s most humiliating defeats – has cost the country in the historic folly of just Iraq and Afghanistan. Under a Freedom of Information Act request (4) sums revealed include, for Iraq:
* £2.3 million in compensation to troops suffering from trauma
* £6.1 million compensation for 179 killed and hundred injured
* £14 million in one off payments to families of those killed
* £9.4 million in other payments to dependents of the dead.
A “flood” of claims is expected relating to the (as now) 325 service personnel killed in Afghanistan. To now, only £317,000 has been paid out.
Meanwhile other charities, such as Combat Stress, are struggling with the psychological fallout from the invasions, dealing already with over 4,000 cases. They point out that the majority of serious problems, on average, take fourteen years to present, a ticking financial, Blair-generated time bomb, for maybe decades, to come. Their expenditure is around £20 million annually. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Famies Association expend well in excess of £40 million; Help for Heroes, who aim to rehabilitate the numerous who have lost limbs – some, all of them – sight, movement, is aiming for £20 million this year. The British Legion needs around £40 million annually.
These figures, relating directly or indirectly to Blair’s feckless, forays, however pale against the cost, so far of the Afghan and Iraq oil, mineral and resources grabs to Britain, in “fighting”, and in which, strangely, “diplomacy” is factored : £20 billion, to the taxpayers of a small island off France.
So has Mr Blair’s munificence contributing to delivering a mollified and grateful public? Not exactly.
First to weigh in was Peter Brierley, whose young son Shaun died in Iraq, and who had refused to shake Blair’s hand at a commemoration service for the troops, at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral. They were, he said, covered in blood. “Blood money” he said of the donation to the Press Association, adding: “£4.6 million cannot wash Blair’s hands clean.”
Political satirist and columnist Mark Steel was less than compromising: “Imagine if the British Legion announced: ‘You’ll never guess what. Today we got another donation of £4 million, from the latest DVD by Osma Bin Laden. It really has been our lucky week. ”
Writer and activist, David Wilson, suggested other book signings he deemed apt for the relevant week, to the Guardian:
“Waterstones are pleased to announce a programme of book signings for
the week of 6 – 10 September 2010.
6 September, Osama bin Laden: ‘Town Planning in Manhattan’
7 September, Radovan Karadzic: ‘Hill Walks above Sarajevo’
8 September, Tony Blair: ‘A Journey’
9 September, General Than Shwe: ‘Gated Communities in Rangoon’
10 September, President George W Bush: ‘Shock and Ore.’ “
Judas feeling guilty over his thirty pieces of silver crops up a bit. The Daily Finance unkindly point out that: “The donation will significantly cut his tax bill, by an estimated £2.3 million.”
Seeming acres of ungenerous comments gather pace. However, here are some different financial costings:
*£4.6 million, is exactly the estimated amount of Iraqis displaced by the invasion, internally and externally, who have lost everything. His donation would equal one pound each.
*For the five million orphans created since 2003, less than a pound each.
*For the million widows, a little over four pounds each.
*To the families of the upper estimate of one and a half million resultant dead, under four pounds each.
The Book Signing Occasion, falls in the week that America commemorates 9/11.That day, arguably, the beginning of Blair’s “Journey” – into dodgy dossiers, destruction of two of nations, the spectre of the unexplained death of an eminent scientist, weapons inspector, Dr David Kelly, having said publicly he thought the wmd claims might have been “sexed up” – and his unshakeable, blind, messianic certainty of being “right.”
On the course of this journey, between Iraq and Afghanistan, possibly approaching two million dead, lie strewn along the way.
A shame the signing could not be moved to Saturday,11th September. Were there an arrest, citizens’ or otherwise, no more fitting day for him to begin another journey – to the Hague.
One can only wistfully wish, and fantasize.
On 28th July, former weapons inspector, Hans Blix, told the Chilcot Inquiry in to the invasion, of a conversation he had with Blair on 20th February, 2003, when the invasion was already, clearly, unstoppable: “Wouldn’t it be paradoxical if you invade Iraq with 250,000 men and find very little?”
As this was being written, Britain commemorated the 70th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s speech of 20th August, 1940, which includes the lines: “Never has so much been owed by so many to so few.” Perhaps it should be re-fashioned for our times: “Never have so many died, for being ripped off by so few.”