Tony Blair hit back against allegations of financial impropriety relating to his Middle East role in an interview on Indian TV last night, reports Shamik Das.
Tony Blair hit back against allegations of financial impropriety relating to his Middle East role in an interview on Indian TV last night, emphasising the work he’s doing in India, the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere, and insisting that the money he earns, legally and legitimately from his other ventures, “is just a way of funding the rest of the things I do”.
The former prime minister, in India for his religious interfaith foundation, denied the claims, made in UK newspapers and broadcast on Channel Four’s Dispatches this week, that he benefited financially from a telecommunications project in Palestine, and had made money out of his links to Libya. As Left Foot Forward reported on Monday, the claims are old Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday concoctions that were debunked at the time.
Quizzed on the claims he used the access he has as Special Envoy for the Middle East quartet to “acquire contracts or business interests in your own personal interest”, he answered:
“This is absolutely untrue and the two contracts that they mention are two things that I raised for the Palestinians, one about mobile telephony, because they only had one mobile telephone company, and the Palestinians were desperate to introduce competition which would give them hundreds of millions of dollars revenue, it was the single biggest foreign direct investment in Palestine, I made absolutely no gain out of it at all, it was a longstanding commitment of the international community.
“And the other thing is a project that hasn’t yet come to fruition, which is the gas-marine project off Gaza, I won’t go into the detail, but it is such a sort of tenuous way that they try and connect some commercial gain to me is totally absurd.”
While on Libya, the alleged conflict of interest regarding his role at JP Morgan, and the Emir of Kuwait/Tony Blair Associates claims, he replied:
“I’ve never in fact made any commercial deals out of Libya at all; it’s true I used to see Gaddafi after I left office, particularly for the first couple of years, I was very instrumental at bringing him in from the cold, he gave up his nuclear and chemical weapons and started co-operating in the fight against terrorism.
“I hoped he might shift internal policy to match external policy shifts but he didn’t, and in respect of Kuwait this is something I do, this is completely separate from anything else, I have a, one part of what we do is we advise governments on building capacity and things like healthcare and education and so on, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with what I do in the Middle East.
“And, so, look, in the end, I suppose, someone said to me the other day, the fact that I’m in the British newspapers, so much, shows y’know you continue to interest people or divide them one way or another, but y’know for me my life is actually about, is directed towards what I think is the, the, big issue, which is how do you bring about in an era of globalisation peaceful co-existence.
“That’s why I do the Middle East, that’s why I do the religious interfaith, that’s why I do this thing about Africa and trying to help countries get their way out of poverty, and for me the money is just a way of funding the rest of the things I do.”
Watch the key exchanges, starting with a question on the press’s obsession with trying to do him in:
On the press, he said:
“I’m afraid what happened in the British media is that it’s got an establishment on the left, who didn’t like me because I was New Labour, y’know, very modern type of Labour Party, and there’s an establishment on the right, the Mail and the Telegraph and so on, and they don’t like me because I’m Labour and won three elections for a Labour party that had never won two successive full terms before and I won three.”
“There is in my view another issue which… is particularly acute in Britain and that’s when newspapers are used as instruments of politics, this is what causes the problems for politicians. This is why people often say you had too strong a relationship not just with Murdoch but with parts of the media and other prime ministers and so on.
“And I always say to that: ‘look, if you’re in a situation where these guys, particularly if they hunt in a pack can literally take out any ministers and make your government rock, you’ve got no option to work hard and try to bring them around.
“Is that healthy? No, but it’s inevitable unless you deal with the root of that problem which is where you get the line between news and commentary blurred and you get newspapers using newspaper stories, as opposed to comment, to get across a particular point of view… cosy, chummy and comfortable is not quite the right description.
“The truth is you’re dealing with people who, as I see, if they decide to put one of their newspapers against you, what you find is not that the comment is against, the stories are against you. That’s a very different thing. My analysis of this is not so much about a cosy relationship, it’s a relationship in which you are dealing with people who have got the capacity to do very great damage.”
Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
• Exposed: The Mail-inspired Dispatches hatchet job on Blair – Shamik Das, September 26th 2011
• Blair’s elected EU President plan not as far-fetched as it sounds – Ben Fox, June 10th 2011
• Arab Spring latest: Blair speaks out as Gaddafi sinks to lowest depths – Dominic Browne, June 9th 2011
• Mladic to face justice. Finally. At long, long last – Shamik Das, May 27th 2011
• The British left should engage in serious self-reflection over Gaddafi – Seph Brown, February 22nd 2011