More than 100,000 people have now signed an online petition against Blair’s award from the charity’s US arm because of the former prime minister’s history of taking the UK to war in Iraq and his dealings with autocratic rulers.
Save the Children has also been criticised by hundreds of its own staff, who accused it of betraying its own values in an internal letter.
The row, revealed by the Guardian on Tuesday, escalated as the comedian Dom Joly tweeted that he was “‘pretty embarrassed” to be an ambassador for the charity if it was prepared to hand an award to Blair for his anti-poverty work.
“When @savechildrenUK gave an award to Tony Blair for his ‘anti-poverty work’ I can only assume they meant his own, personal poverty?” he added.
The row also reached the House of Commons when the Conservative backbencher Andrew Turner questioned whether Blair “should get a global legacy award from Save The Children for taking us to war unnecessarily in Iraq”.
Cameron said it was not for him to get involved but that it was “remarkable” it was given to Blair by a former staffer of his arch political rival Gordon Brown.
“Obviously the person who gave the award knows about peacemaking and peacekeeping,” he said.
Save the Children declined to comment on the prime minister’s comments, but earlier Richard Warburton, the charity’s director of media, dismissed the significance of the close links between Blair and some of its senior figures.
Save the Children UK’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth, worked for Blair on global poverty issues before being appointed to the charity, and Jonathan Powell, his former chief of staff and a former Brown aide, is on its board.
Save the Children’s director of global programmes, Fergus Drake, joined the charity in 2009 from Blair’s office in Rwanda, from where he advised president Paul Kagame.
Brendan Cox, the charity’s director of policy and advocacy, was a special adviser to Brown.
Warburton said: “Save the Children has, and always will be, an impartial organisation that is above party politics. The background of our staff and their previous employment does not affect the organisation’s impartiality. We have strong links across the political spectrum.”
Blair attending Parker’s wedding in 2008.
Asked if Parker had recommended Blair for the award, Warburton said: “It is simply wrong to suggest it was made at Sir Alan Parker’s suggestion. He was not part of the process.”
The number of signatures to the internal letter, which describes giving the award to Blair as “morally reprehensible”, continued to grow, according to Save the Children insiders.
One staffer, currently in West Africa responding to the Ebola outbreak, said: “Some of the senior managers at regional level have signed it. There is also a very active email exchange of opinions and frustration among staff deployed in various corners of the world.”
Many feel the charity’s integrity and neutrality have been called into question.
“Unless the award is withdrawn immediately and public apologies made by those responsible for this awful decision, the credibility of Save the Children at global level is definitely going to sink.
“It is already happening. The organisation will not be considered as one who fights for children’s rights anymore, rather a logo that questionable leaders can use to raise their ‘charitable’
profile,” said an employee.
Some called for an internal inquiry and for those responsible for the decision to be held accountable.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010