Tony Blair has insisted that his much-criticised business dealings with dubious governments round the world have not been as lucrative as people think – as one of his staff suggested his wealth amounted to about £10m.
In a wide-ranging interview with Vanity Fair, the former prime minister also cites Richard Nixon’s controversial national security adviser Henry Kissinger as a role model.
Kissinger is despised by many on the left because of his part in the covert bombing of Cambodia but Blair appears to have had in mind his longevity rather than his politics or diplomacy.
“One of the things people are going to have to get used to is: you are going to get leaders leaving office in their early 50s,” Blair says. “I have a lot of energy. I feel extremely fit. There’s no way I’m going to retire and play golf. You look at someone like Henry [Kissinger]. He’s 91 and he’s still going strong. I love that. Or Shimon Peres - these are my role models.”
Blair, who has built a global business network since leaving Downing Street, defends his financial dealings, describing his involvement in countries round the world as not work for hire but work that can change the character of countries.
Denying there was any conflict of interest in the work he does, he says of Tony Blair Associates: “We have incredibly strict rules”.
He has been involved in giving advice to governments in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, among others.
Asked by Vanity Fair’s veteran correspondent Sarah Ellison if there was anyone he would not work for, such as the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, Blair smiled and switched the topic to Kazakhstan.
Later in the interview he says: “I’m not holding my breath for the call from Putin.” Asked again what he would do if Putin called, he said: “It won’t come, so let me not either praise or insult.”
There has been a lot of speculation about Blair’s wealth. Earlier this year, he laughed off reports he was worth £100m and said it was less than £20m. The Vanity Fair interview – the January issue but which went on sale in the US on Thursday – further refines that.
One of his staff said his net worth is “roughly equal to what he has given away”, which Vanity Fair estimated at £10m.
But the figure does not appear to include Blair’s portfolio of houses, which include a mansion in Buckinghamshire and six homes in London, which estimates put at much more than £10m.
Asked about Iraq, the most divisive issue of his premiership, Blair expresses resentment at the damage done to his reputation. “People say: ‘Why should you listen to him?’ because of Iraq. And I keep saying: ‘That’s why you should listen to me,’” he says.
“Because I’ve been through this in government, and since leaving office I’ve been studying it the whole time. One thing that is quite interesting to me is how poor western governments are at the moment – and I don’t exempt mine from this– how poor they are at understanding what’s going on in the world.”
His view of the world is more sophisticated now, he adds. “I mean, I find my own understanding of the Middle East, but also further afield, just so much more sophisticated and deep [now] than the understanding I had in government, even with all that infrastructure – the intelligence services and foreign office and so on.”
Asked about the criticism he faces, particularly in Britain, Blair says it is overstated. “First of all, you know, I actually did win three elections, not lose them. I won the last election with a majority, even after Iraq.
“Whatever criticisms people have of me, they’ve seldom thought of me as politically stupid.”
He attempts to explain away the dislike, saying: “I have always been a centrist politician and I remain a centrist politician. And the centre, in my view, still has the true governing constituency of the country but not the governing constituency of the media.
“The right don’t like it because you used to win elections, and the left don’t like it because they think you sold out … It’s multiplied because of the legacy of Iraq.”
Publication of the interview comes a week after the charity Save the Children faced a backlash from staff after it presented Blair with a “Global Legacy award” in New York.
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