x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Tony Blair bids to return in top job 'to make a difference'

Five years on from relinquishing power, former British prime minister Tony Blair is seeking a new position with international significance.

He has an estimated annual income of around £20 million (Dh115m), owns at least six homes and regularly flits about the globe on private jets, but Tony Blair, like a growing number of his countrymen, is looking for work.

The former British prime minister, who left office in 2007 just before the ill winds of the great recession were beginning to gather, told the British press last week that he wants a "big job", one he can really sink his teeth into. Certainly at only 59 years of age, he is relatively young, fit and able enough to make such a pronouncement.

In a wonderful piece of understatement, Blair acknowledged that his lack of popularity on the domestic front - his reputation has been badly tainted by (among other things) his decision to lead the UK into the Iraq War and his controversial Private Finance Initiative, which its critics claim will seriously undermine the UK's cherished universal healthcare system - means another run at Downing Street "is not likely to happen".

However, he said he would consider the posts of president of the European Council (effectively president of the EU) or the World Bank if those esteemed bodies ever expressed an interest in securing his services.

Not that he is spending his days anxiously waiting for the phone to ring. Far from it. When Blair is not earning up to an estimated £200,000 per appearance imparting his wisdom at corporate dinners and lectures in countries around the world (including this region), he is busy running a series of charitable foundations for interfaith understanding, sport and Africa.

These philanthropic endeavours are funded by his lucrative and rapidly expanding business advisory service, Tony Blair Associates, which has a client list that includes the US investment bank JP Morgan and the government of Kazakhstan. He also serves as envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East (the US, the EU, the UN and Russia) in its efforts to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some might argue that this is a rather curious position given the key role Blair played in profoundly destabilising one of the region's largest countries.

The Iraq invasion, for which Blair shares responsibility with the leaders of the US and other coalition partners, resulted in more than 100,000 civilian deaths, a figure that continues to rise years later. It also devastated cities, massively damaged the country's vital infrastructure, sparked an internecine sectarian conflict and provided terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda with a tremendous recruitment and propaganda windfall, the bloody repercussions of which are still being felt well beyond Iraq's borders.

To Blair's credit, in his Quartet role he has succeeded in persuading the Israeli authorities to allow Palestinian farmers to export carnations and strawberries and helped to improve sewage treatment in Gaza. He also has secured frequencies for a second mobile phone company to operate in the West Bank, although this accomplishment would seem more impressive if the firm in question, Wataniya, did not have links to JP Morgan, the investment bank he is paid to advise.

One top-flight job Blair may be considered for, according to Britain's Independent on Sunday, is director general of the World Trade Organisation, an elite post that comes up next year. The former prime minister, along with his then chancellor, Gordon Brown, propelled the UK to a decade of near unparalleled growth at the turn of this century before the global financial crisis laid waste to most, if not all, of those gains.

Blair has talked recently of wanting "to make a difference" in the next few years. Few would argue that he has done so already, though perhaps not to the acclamation of all.