The next chapter in Blair’s pursuit of wealth

New reports reveal that he has registered a “Mayfair bank” with the FSA.

It's not great timing for the man who was once credited with being a master of spin. After a week of speculation around Tony Blair's decision to donate the proceeds of his memoir, A Journey, to the Royal British Legion comes news that the former premier has set up a Mayfair investment advisory firm.

The company, Firerush, was apparently set up to manage the finances of his consultancy firm, Tony Blair Associates (TBA), but, as the Bloomberg report points out, Blair has hired former investment bankers -- including an ex-Lehman Brothers employee -- and has registered the firm with the Financial Services Authority (FSA). A spokesperson has denied, however, that the outfit will operate as an investment bank.

Whether it's a bank or not, it's a sign of the continuing expansion of the Blair empire (he is now said to be worth about £20m -- oddly, the Labour Party is apparently in debt by the same amount, according to John Prescott). How far the former Sedgefield MP has travelled from such petty, parochial issues. He is now able to swan between seven homes, various high-paid positions and lucrative public speaking fees.

Blair still has a few defenders, but surely their cause can't be helped by this latest twist in the tale of endless wealth accumulation. But why is it so ugly to behold? It is cynical (though understandable) to question the motivation for his charitable donation -- a consequence of his wealth. And there are no rules to say a former premier cannot go on to financial success after leaving office.

But, in Blair's case, there's that sense -- just as there was when he was in office -- of a gulf between the external presentation and the inner reality. He gives a highly publicised donation and, on the quiet, registers an investment vehicle in Mayfair. He makes occasional but well-documented appearances in the Middle East and, again, almost silently, receives cash from a South Korean oil firm.

It's the sense of duplicity that stinks.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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