Tony Blair made clear in his memoirs how he thought that introducing Freedom of Information was one of his biggest mistakes.
“You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.”
That view is shared by Jonathan Powell, in his excellent book “The New Machiavelli“, where he admits that New Labour ministers found FOI the bane of their lives.
This dislike of transparency appears to have remained with Mr Blair in his post-government years. The final few pages of “A Journey“, his fascinating political memoir, describe what he is up to after leaving Downing Street.
The former prime minister says “my new life takes me around the world” on a multitude of worthy causes, including his formal role as quartet envoy to the Middle East, his Faith Foundation, his work in Africa and finally his Climate Group.
He does not mention his creation of Tony Blair Associates, a sizeable private business headquartered in a luxury office block in Mayfair, with several large clients around the world. Blair does not discuss his work with clients such as JP Morgan Chase, the government of Kuwait and with Mubadala, an investment vehicle in Abu Dhabi. You can read more about his activities in our article from two years ago: “Inside Blair Inc“.
Earlier this month we heard that Mr Blair was involved in a new contract to advise the government of Khazakstan, an authoritarian state in Central Asia. Only after two weeks of regular phone calls to his spokesman – and our discovery of information from elsewhere – did he finally reveal any information at all about the deal, which involves other New Labour alumni such as Mr Powell, Alastair Campbell and Tim Allen of Portland PR.
Here is our news story about the deal in Kazakhstan. Here is more about how the friendship developed between President Nazarbeyev (pictured) and Blair 10 years ago.
The Blair statement raised as many questions as it answered:
“Tony Blair has helped put together a team of international advisors and consultants to set up an advisory group for the Kazakhs, with a team of people working on the ground. The work they are doing is excellent, sensible and supports the reforms they are making. The Kazakhs also engage with a number of other former European leaders. Tony Blair last visited Kazakhstan in May of this year to attend a conference. He has taken no personal profit and is not doing business in Kazakhstan.
Blair appears to have decided that there is no need for him to tell the world about the full extent of his activities – while being happy to promote his faith/Africa/environment initiatives. That is not going to improve his reputation for transparency.
The irony is that the former PM is a very generous philanthrophist, I’m told. One ally of Blair tells me that he has quietly given £7m to charities and foundations since leaving office – a huge sum by any measure.