What’s the truth about Blair’s millions?

Book review: Blair Inc: The Man Behind the Mask is an interesting, if slightly coloured glimpse into Blair’s life after politics, says Matthew Partridge.


Published byJohn Blake (£20)

Buy at Amazon

Few British prime ministers have divided public opinion like Tony Blair, and there are already plenty of books forensically examining his premiership and the Iraq war. Rather than add to these tomes, in Blair Inc: The Man Behind the Mask, journalists Francis Beckett, David Hencke and Nick Kochan look at an arguably more interesting and equally controversial aspect of the man his activities since leaving office.

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Rather than keep a low profile, like many of his predecessors, Blair has become involved in nest-feathering ventures on an unprecedented scale, they argue. While some are motivated by altruism, many are purely commercial, and some deals involve nations that Blair worked with while in Downing Street, including some extremely dubious regimes.

The authors clearly view this as at best ugly, and at worst, as a conflict of interest. Most of the 16 chapters examine a different project, while the last four focus on Blair's personal wealth and long-term political plans.

The picture that emerges is of someone who has spread himself too thinly, greatly reducing his effectiveness (his recent decision to step down from the task of trying to reconcile Israel and Palestine suggests that even he accepts this). And some of his business dealings in the Middle East and Central Asia certainly leave a bad taste in the mouth.

However, there is a difference between acting in a way that many might find distasteful, and exploiting public office for private gain and the book falls down on providing evidence of the latter. For instance, in the section dealing with former Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi, there is plenty of conjecture, but few hard facts.

Arguably there were legitimate national security reasons for Britain to maintain good relations with the regime, odious as it was, and the book doesn't address these. Blair has also disputed the book's estimate of his net worth.

And one big weakness is that the book doesn't really try to compare Blair's behaviour with that of his predecessors. There is a very brief discussion in the final chapter, but it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.

You can argue that John Major has made far less money from his post-office directorships because he was a less successful prime minister. And the authors ignore the fact that Margaret Thatcher's husband and son had no qualms about pursuing business interests while she was in office.

In short, this is an original book that provides an interesting glimpse into Blair's life after politics. It also raises key questions about the conduct of modern public figures. But the authors' antipathy to the former prime minister colours their analysis rather too much for my taste.

Blair Inc: The Man Behind the Mask, by Francis Beckett, David Hencke and Nick Kochan. Published by John Blake (£20).


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Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri