“A classic PR idea gone bad” was one of the derisory reactions to the news on August 16th that Tony Blair is going to donate the profits (the advance alone is £4.6 million, around $7 million) from his forthcoming memoirs to a charity helping ex-servicemen in Britain. That may well be true, although Mr Blair is adamant that he always planned to give the money away as an act of principle, not as a cynical attempt to burnish a public image tarnished by his role in the Iraq war. Mr Blair is not the first politician to have given his book earnings away – Bill Clinton donated $1 million of the $6 million he got for his book Giving – and won’t be the last: Gordon Brown, Mr Blair’s successor, is well known for his piety and asceticism (as well as his rivalry with Mr Blair) so surely won’t want to be outdone on generosity.
Maybe this should be a model for all political memoir writers? After all, they are largely making money out of the public’s interest in how they performed their public duties (and if they really need to cash in on their experiences, they can do so in other ways through directorships, consultancies and speaking fees). Perhaps Mr Blair could make this the start of a political giving pledge to mirror that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in the business world – how could Prime Minister Cameron, or Mr Blair’s old chum former President Bush, refuse if asked to sign up to give away, say, at least half their book proceeds?
But why stop at politicians? As we write in the book, ex-leaders such as Messrs Blair and Clinton, are a subset of a category of philanthrocapitalists called “celanthropists”, whose fame is a key source of their ability to drive change. How about the rest of the celanthropists following Mr Blair’s example? Ludicrously well-paid sportsmen, like Britain’s footballers, pump out mind-numbingly tedious ghost-written memoirs for the Christmas market each year – how about turning at least a chunk of those earnings over to the public good? So too with those celebrities who do nothing except be a celebrity. Their giving, unlike Mr Blair’s, might actually be a smart piece of PR.