Tony Blair and the widow's mite

By Jill Segger
August 20, 2010
Looking a gift horse in the mouth is generally thought graceless and discourteous. But when the donor is a multi-millionaire ex-Prime Minister who took his country into a war of dubious legality and certain immorality, and the recipient is a charitable project for injured service personnel, the convention may justifiably be set aside.

A guilty conscience and the tax relief on charitable giving have both been advanced as reasons for Blair's decision to donate the advance and subsequent royalties from his memoirs to the British Legion – a sum thought to be in the region of £5 million.

The latter accusation may seem unkind, but the former Prime Minister's relentless pursuit of money since leaving office does not put him in a good light. 'Friends' of the Blairs are reported to have told the Daily Mirror that “many of Tony and Cherie's friends now are extremely wealthy and they enjoy moving in those sort of social circles. But that takes serious cash”.

The pursuit of that cash is manifest in the hedge-fund jobs, the six-figure after dinner speaking fees and the developing property empire of six luxury homes (estimated to be worth around £14 million). These are eye-watering enough, but the complex web of holding companies which Blair has set up to manage his millions has been criticised by financial experts who claim that he has exploited a legal loophole in order to keep his earnings and dealings from public scrutiny.

Firerush Ventures, which is controlled by Blair, has done nothing illegal, but its license from the FSA to operate “cross-border investment services” in countries with very favourable tax regimes does not play well with Labour voters, with parliamentarians who have been calling for freedom of information on offshore tax havens, or with the families of the low-paid soldiers who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 'Battle Back' project, which is the beneficiary of Blair's donation, seeks to help injured soldiers back into service life. It would be wrong to deny these maimed and traumatised young men any help we can give them. But how much more worthy of admiration Blair's gift would have been had at least some of it been directed towards training in conflict resolution, peacemaking and nation-building. The enabling and nourishing of peace is the best gift which could be given to our military personnel.

Placed in the context of Tony Blair's fortune, which is expected to reach £45 million by next year, £5 million is fairly small change. The most recent survey done by the Charities Aid foundation shows that the lowest 10 per cent of earners give three per cent of their weekly income to charity whilst the wealthiest 20 per cent give 0.7 per cent. To be fair, Blair has given a larger portion of his wealth than the average. Nonetheless, one may wonder if this extremely wealthy man, who has used the Labour movement as a vehicle for his own ambition and acquisition, is familiar with either the parable of the widow's mite or with the Sermon on the Mount.

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