Avarice (noun) Extreme greed for wealth or material gain.
How rich is Tony Blair? What are the needs of an ex-prime minister with grown-up children, a working wife, £25m in property and bodyguards costing the state £1m a year? Blair protested yesterday that he is not worth £100m, “not half of that, a third of that, a quarter of that, a fifth of that, and I could go on.” That gets us down to below £20m. In addition, he pleaded that, “I spend two-thirds of my time on unpaid work,” such as bringing peace to the Middle East. How dare anyone suggest he was motivated by money?
Since leaving office Blair’s financial manoeuvres have become the butt of satire, not least in Robert Harris’s novel The Ghost. It is not clear if his mysterious “foundations” exist to sanitise the dodgy consultancies, or the dodgy consultancies to support the foundations. Nothing seems quite above board in a miasma of Windrush and Firerush nameplates, out of sight, mind and national boundary. One minute Blair is “advising” in Kazakhstan, another in Columbia, Azerbaijan or Dubai. He seems to have an aversion to democracies.
Blair clearly regards £20m as modest. On the day when the boss of Tesco is ousted for failure and could walk away with close to £10m plus £11m in pension, ordinary people must wonder at the world these people inhabit. As Robert Maxwell once said when asked about his riches, making the first million is easy because you can spend it. When there is nothing left to buy you have to just want money.
Blair has often opined that his apparent neediness derives from the fact that he and Cherie grew up with financial insecurity. That might explain the cheap dress, upgrade or freebie holiday, but the Blairs cannot realistically expect sympathy for a multimillion-pound comfort blanket. Their pension, not means-tested, is supplied by the taxpayer. Their children have houses of their own, unlike many young people. The Blairs seem to crave money like Maxwell, because it is there.
A cardinal fact of the recession and recovery is the ever widening gap between a tiny minority of very rich and the rest. As Thomas Piketty has argued, however rooted in economic history, this gulf has no justification in political equity or social stability. It is not sensible. In the west it looks increasingly like the kleptocracy so derided in the developing world. Time was when Blair’s boasts would have been regarded as inflammatory. Who knows that such times may not return?