A nauseating award for Blair and a bloated aid industry sucking up to its political paymasters

Published by The Daily Mail (27th November, 2014)

A spectacular charity gala studded with celebrities, famous singers and Hollywood stars, it was just the sort of glittering event our former prime minister Tony Blair seems to enjoy these days.

Acting luminaries such as Ben Affleck and his wife Jennifer Garner were present at the plush New York hotel as the one-time Labour leader in his trademark red tie was honoured for ‘humanitarian work’.

Then he spoke in that familiar mock-sincere style about the ‘relentless, unquenchable desire to do good’, praising those saintly souls acting in defiance of their self-interest to force forward ‘the engine of progress’.

‘Yes, it can be marginalised in this crisis or that moment of time. But somehow, what’s amazing is that it always starts up again — it pushes forward and it somehow finds those willing to jump into the seat and drive it.’

No prizes for guessing who Blair had in mind! I can only say I am glad I was not there last week, for I would have found it hard to keep down the canapes as this shameless egotist held forth before his adoring audience.

This is, after all, a man who has turned amorality into an art form since leaving office, as he cuddles up to some of the planet’s most depraved despots, and pockets vast sums of money from often dubious sources.

This is the supposed peace envoy in the Middle East, whose most significant intervention was to claim a military coup had set Egypt on the path to democracy. Since then, thousands of people, including journalists and pro-democracy activists, have been jailed in that benighted country.

And most infamously, most incongruously, this is the messianic, myopic politician whose misguided war in Iraq fanned the maelstrom engulfing the Middle East, leaving a trail of blood, carnage and chaos that has destroyed the lives of millions of innocent people.

It seemed beyond parody when, two months ago, GQ Magazine named Blair ‘Philanthropist of the Year’. Yet even this absurdity has now been trumped by the charity Save The Children, which handed him its ‘Global Legacy’ gong at its Annual Illumination Gala.

Unsurprisingly, many of its staff have reacted with rightful fury. Almost 200 signed an internal letter arguing that such an award betrayed their principles and values, saying it was both ‘morally reprehensible’ and ‘endangers our credibility globally’.

This is, of course, a charity constantly appealing for funds to help those trapped by the tide of horror engulfing the Middle East. ‘We see his real global legacy on the ground every day,’ said one angry aid worker.

Now the charity’s top brass are desperately trying to contain the damage from their idiotic gesture, sending an email to senior staff admitting they should have anticipated the fury it provoked around the world.

‘What we are most worried about . . . is the feelings of our own staff,’ wrote Jasmine Whitbread, the £234,000-a-year chief executive of Save The Children International. ‘We are sorry that our leaders . . . were blind-sighted by this.’

While it is no surprise Blair accepted the ridiculous award, given his appalling lack of self-awareness or display of genuine remorse for his most notorious deeds in office, this was a terrible misjudgment by such a prominent charity.

Yet the sad truth is that it shows how far removed the biggest development charities — and this one in particular — have moved from their humble roots, turning into self-serving corporate combines sucking up to the politicians that fuel their huge machines.

This is symbolised by the hefty salaries taken home by aid industry fat cats, so at odds with all those heart-tugging appeals and pleading missives. There are 20 people on six-figure pay packets at Save The Children’s international office based in London, while 19 senior U.S. staff take home packages worth more than $200,000 (£127,000).

This charity is far from unique in demonstrating the money to be made by individuals fighting poverty. Oxfam, for instance, has appointed a head of inequality to lead campaigns on this issue in Britain while also paying its U.S. president an astonishing £277,500.

But who funds these high salaries, their endless expensive campaigning and their swollen offices? Clearly a big chunk comes from those very politicians flaunting their compassion by pumping taxpayers’ cash into the charities’ pockets.

Blair was given that gong in New York for creating Britain’s flawed Department for International Development, which now doles out billions in foreign aid, and for setting Britain on course to hit the utterly misguided target of giving away 0.7 per cent of national income.

More than £1 billion of this is channelled through non-governmental organisations such as Save The Children and Oxfam, supporting projects around the world. Indeed, those two charities alone have been handed £61.7 million from the UK government in unrestricted funding over the past three years, distinct from the chunks of cash they get to run individual projects.

No wonder Save The Children wanted to pay tribute to Blair — seemingly oblivious to the fact he was being generous with taxpayers’ money, not his own.

And how telling that Save The Children’s £163,000-a-year chief executive in this country, Justin Forsyth, is a former senior adviser to both Blair and his successor Gordon Brown.

And how interesting that Jonathan Powell, Blair’s former chief of staff, sits on the charity’s board. Indeed, there is an almost incestuous relationship between some of New Labour’s cronies and Save The Children.

The charity’s chief financial officer spent 30 years working on government development programmes; its director of policy and advocacy advised Brown; and its director of global programmes worked for Blair in Rwanda — where the former prime minister aids an appalling despot who deserves to be jailed for war crimes.

And the charity has also proved adept at wooing the Coalition government. David Cameron’s wife Samantha is an ambassador, often wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with its familiar red logo, while it takes MPs on trips to exotic locations who then promote the charity’s cause.

Robert Halfon, now George Osborne’s Parliamentary private secretary, went to Mozambique over the Easter break last year, then defended aid in an article on the influential ConservativeHome website by claiming Britain spent only ‘a very small amount’ — a crazy way for any Conservative to describe £10 billion of public money in these austere times.

The BBC also treats foreign aid in the most uncritical manner, despite growing evidence of the damage caused around the world by these blundering interventions, the wasted sums lost to corruption and the backing of regimes responsible for hideous human rights abuses.

Tony Blair’s legacy looks more and more in tatters by the day — though no one can deny that the former Labour leader has worked hard to ‘make poverty history’, as the saying goes, in his own household as he stacks up his tens of millions in personal wealth.

If he feels so passionately about ‘the engine of progress’, perhaps he should pledge to give away at least half of his vast fortune, as billionaires such as Bill Gates have in recent times.

To praise him of all people for his global legacy and hand him plaudits for his humanitarian work is no less than a PR disaster for Save The Children.

Rightly, this despicable action has provoked a furore both within the organisation and in the wider world. Yet if the resulting row provokes greater scrutiny of the self-serving links between the swollen aid industry and their political paymasters, then that glitzy charity night might ultimately benefit us all.

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