Tony Blair’s New Life

Tony Blair’s new life as a philanthrocapitalist is getting into full swing. On July 5th, the former British prime minister launched a report calling on the world’s biggest economies to embrace available technological solutions to climate change.

The report, produced in partnership with the Climate Group, a business-backed organisation campaigning for action to counter global warming, lists seven “tried and tested” policies which Blair says could achieve the goal of getting carbon emissions to peak by 2020, and decline thereafter. It is part of Blair’s “Breaking the Climate Deadlock” initiative, designed to generate political pressure around the world for a breakthrough at the climate change summit in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

“Now is the moment,” said Blair. “Up to now, climate change has been an issue around which there has been an immensely important and successful campaign, but this is the moment when we take this out of the position of a great campaign and into the position of practical policy.”

Tackling climate change is one of a portfolio of philanthropic initiatives that Blair has chosen to pursue since leaving 10 Downing Street in 2007. Chosen is the key word: as Blair told Matthew in a recent interview at New York’s 92nd St Y, one of the things he likes most about his new life is his ability to choose what he focuses on, rather than being at the mercy of events, as he was in office. Now, as well as climate change, he is choosing to focus on development in Africa and promoting better relations between the world’s religions through his Tony Blair Faith Foundation, as well as continuing to work as a peace envoy in the middle east. (You can watch here excerpts from Blair’s interview at the 92nd St Y, in which he talks about prospects for peace between Israel and Palestine.)

As we write in Philanthrocapitalism, Blair is following in the footsteps of two former American presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, in pursuing a post-governmental career built on philanthropy.
As, like Clinton especially, Blair did not leave office a rich man, the assets he gives are essentially his personal brand and convening power, which makes his philanthropy a politically-coloured version of the celebrity giving we call celanthropy. There are many positive aspects to this, as both Carter and Clinton’s efforts have made clear – and, like them, Blair may well do more good out of office than he did in it. As yet, however, there is no plan to follow Clinton’s lead by launching a Blair Global Initiative – though it surely cannot be ruled out at some point.

Like Clinton’s, Blair’s brand is global and powerful, yet comes with a complicated legacy from actions taken in office. This legacy certainly makes effective philanthropy harder. In an article in the New Yorker a few years ago, it was argued that Clinton’s philanthropic commitment to Africa was prompted in part by his guilt at failing to do more for the continent when he was in office. Some observers suggest that similar feelings may be driving Blair’s promotion of religious harmony, given that many people feel that America’s invasion of Iraq, which he supported with British troops, significantly worsened relations with Islam, for example – though as Blair told Matthew, he remains adamant that the invasion was the right thing to do.

As Blair joked, saying that his goals are to help bring peace in the Middle East and between religions often prompts people to look at him as if he has taken leave of his senses. His Africa Governance Initiative, by contrast, seems far more down to earth. Here, his aim is to work with African leaders (such as Paul Kagame of Rwanda) to build the capacity of their staff to deliver poverty-reduction policies. Given that in government Blair helped secure billions of dollars in new government aid to Africa, and given the growing fear that this money will be wasted, it is encouraging that he recognises the need for Africa to increase its ability to govern itself in ways that promote prosperity, and that he is doing something practical to help.