assassinating a prime minister's reputation: ten ways to blackmail blair
Part Two of the Blair/Brown Succession Story
They cover not only his early years as a barrister and MP, but also key moments when he was at the height of his power and reputation as an international statesman and warlord.
The wayward lawyer
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair married Cherie Booth on 29th March 1980. Just four years out of University, Blair was trying to establish himself as a barrister - but not with much success.
"He wasn't very good" says a retired commercial lawyer who hired him at the time through Derry Irvine's Chambers. "Frankly he didn't listen to the brief, and he caved in to the Judge...to the fury of my clients. So I fired him. I told Derry, 'Don't ever send that twat to me again'".
The solicitor was appalled at the ease with which Blair betrayed his clients "for a quiet life". Betrayal (as we shall see) is an amoral spine running through Teflon Tony's life-story.
We interviewed the lawyer at some length. "When I watched him give in to the EU about the eight billion quid" he said, "I thought of that day in Court".
Close friends of the Blairs agree that Tony was a washout as a barrister....and that Cherie was without doubt the superstar. But in turn, while specialising in wealthy and commercial clients, for a young man supposedly interested in left-wing ideas Blair defended some odd people.
Famouspeople.com notes that
'In the case of Nethermere v. Gardiner, Blair acted for employers that had refused holiday pay to employees at a trouser factory. He unsuccessfully defended the employers.'
Election to Parliament in 1983 provided a more promising career path.
While researching Blair's early Parliamentary career, The Slog (or Not Born Yesterday as it then was) received the following email content:
'In the autumn of 1983, a young well-dressed man presented himself to Bow St Magistrates' Court on a morals charge. He was given a conditional discharge and bound over to keep the peace. The young man gave his name as Charles Lynton. He is now among the highest in the land.'
Blair's middle names are Charles and Lynton. I have asked for the records of the period (the Court no longer exists) but failed to trace any mention there of the 'case' - if indeed it ever existed. Although I found the general attitude of information suppliers to be obstructive, there wasn't any strong feeling of hiding stuff; frankly, I'd be amazed anyway if something incriminating about Tony Blair hadn't been removed by now. Another source wrote to us as follows:
'He was caught importuning in a Westminster toilet. It was all covered up.'
Two things are, however, relevant. Gossip did abound about Blair's sexuality during his time in the rock band Ugly Rumours at Oxford. And while nobody has ever stood them up, it is widely accepted that Derry Irvine (Blair's boss in Chambers) regularly referred to him as "the star closest to Uranus".
Would an indiscretion relating to bisexuality have worried Blair enough to do anything to cover it up? Perhaps it would in 1983....but probably not by 2006. A great many people have teen-and-twenties doubts about the side for which they bat. Thankfully, in the Twenty-first century such things are rarely if ever a matter for blackmail.
Editor's Note: For those who find this far-fetched, it is worth noting that Edward Heath was saved from homosexual importuning charges no less than four times by MI6 in the late 1950s.
The Rising Star
Blair networked among Labour's soft-Left to get the Sedgefield seat that remained his throughout a long Parliamentary career. Using his father-in-law Tony Booth's Labour contacts (and Booth's girfriend Pat Phoenix as a star performer during the campaign) he was selected for and won it in 1983, after boundary changes had changed its makeup.
Once in the Commons, he rose quickly, giving himself a brief to depict City types as incompetent, overpaid and "morally dubious" - an ironic way to start, given what came later.
The stock market crash of October 1987 thus raised Blair to prominence. He got minor government posts, but then became the Shadow Employment spokesman. At the time, the EU's employment charter ran contrary to Labour's preference for 'closed shop' trade unionism. Seeing this instantly as a contradiction, Tony Blair promptly dropped the commitment - and enraged the Left. It was another betrayal - this time of those who had given him his chance.
From this point, the ambitious Blair didn't get on with his sister-in-law,who had by now spotted the opportunist in him. Lauren Booth (like her father, on the Labour Left) decided Tony was 'a prat', and is alleged to have made her dislike obvious at family gatherings.
"Lauren thinks Tony is a disloyal creep" one acquaintance told us, "Always on the make and out for himself. She gives him a hard time and sets out to embarrass him whenever she can". In 2008 - in direct opposition to the policy on Gaza established by her brother-in-law - Lauren went on a Human Rights mission to Gaza, and was photographed enjoying the company of Mahmoud Abbas. This didn't help Blair, who was by now a 'peacemaker' in the Middle East.
By 1988, Tony Blair had already formed his two strongest alliences: one with the Party's spin-doctor Peter Mandelson (just like him in many ways) and the other with Gordon Brown (unlike him in almost every way imaginable). Brown and Mandy disliked each other on sight.
John Smith's sudden death in 1994 should (given the gentleman's agreement between them) have led automatically to Brown's election as leader. But on seeing an opinion poll showing himself to be more popular, Blair dumped his close companion. Over dinner at the end of May that year, some kind of long-term promise was made to Brown. We will probably never be certain of its exact nature: the only certainty is that Blair has reneged on it.
A former Cabinet Minister told the Slog, "Both sides differ on what precisely was said, but by trying to shaft Brown during the Iraq War Tony broke it, period. And once he refused to announce a departure date, well...everyone thought 'nice'".
New Tony, New Labour
Now leader, Blair set about rapidly betraying almost everything Labour stood for. With the repositioning help of obscure adman Phil Gould, he basically gave Thatcherism a human smile and a soft edge - 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime', for example....although Brown continues to insist that he came up with the soundbite.
Once in power after 1997 (say both Party colleagues and civil servants) The Prime Minister and his Chancellor fought non-stop.
"They each had entourages" says one Mandarin from the period, "whose sole job was to leak, destabilise and generally rubbish the other. It was a disgraceful waste of time, and very unsettling for everyone".
But by this time, Tony Blair seems to have consciously settled on a way of working that took no notice whatsoever of the Party machine, the House of Commons - or indeed the Cabinet. He ran a 'knitting circle' consisting of Alistair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and various other cronies who entered the gatherings from time to time. One remark - from a Treasury official who had previously briefed Blair (quite properly) when in Opposition - is very significant:
"When I first met him, Blair oozed charm....he was decidedly full of himself - but very quick on the uptake. By 2000, when I next had to deal with him, he had a quiet reassurance that he could do what he wanted, without constraint. It was more than arrogance. He was drunk with power, loving the adulation and always looking for ways to become a Messiah. This was the first time I heard him talk about legacies and historic victories...."
The second victory came in 2001 - at which point 9/11 rapidly arrived to change not just the world in general, but the focus of Blair's attention. A colleague at the time explains:
"I think this is when Tony first lost it. It was partly his faith, and partly his desire to lead a crusade. Having persuaded Clinton to listen to him, Tony began to believe he could persuade anyone to do anything. He saw himself as a world leader - even more perhaps, a historical figure. It went to his head"
A prominent (now disillusioned) Blairite of the period goes further:
"Campbell and Mandelson were a terrible influence on Tony around this time - more so Campbell, because Peter was going through one of his disgraced periods. Alistair Campbell showed himself to be without ethics of any kind. I felt he was capable of anything. And Tony knew he could, as Prime Minister, literally do anything. There was no sign of them being likely to stop and think about their actions. They gave me the shivers."
All impressions like these of course come with a health warning. Both the above sources have some reason to feel bitter. But these plus the Mandarin's view tend to give a consistent picture of Blair showing signs of self-worship. And it is about this time that reports of the alleged skeletons in his cupboard begin to mount up.
By 2000, there are signs that Tony Blair's family life is under great strain. His son Euan was detained by the police for being 'drunk and incapable'. Also by this time Blair was doing anything to avoid seeing his sister-in-law - again, a woman who is alleged by some to have 'had a go' about his personality several times in front of the children. One source claims that the father's 'emotional absence' from the home was especially resented by his teenage daughter Kathryn.
In mid-May 2004, Kathryn took an overdose and was rushed to hospital. Only sixteen at the time, she recovered quickly and is now a bright young woman who seems to have put that period well and truly behind her. We are now in no doubt that the event took place. A film-maker contacted us earlier this week to say that
'...we were due to film Blair for a PPB [party political broadcast] on the day it happened - I think the 13th May. We were set up and ready to go and then the shoot was cancelled. His daughter Kathryn had been rushed to hospital. We all knew about it...'
Her father clamped down on media reporting of the event; the only reason we raise the issue now is because of two related factors:
1. Several sources cite this as the period when Blair allegedly had a 'brief dalliance' with another person. And
2. Others allege that there were 'some unpleasant' aspects to the case....and that Gordon Brown knew of these.
To his credit, the Prime Minister accepted the cold slap across the face. Several people note that he began talking of spending more time with his family - even telling one colleague that 'all the other stuff' was secondary to his children. Either way, he didn't make any substantive moves to hand over the Leadership. (He had already decided that Gordon Brown would be a disaster in that role).
I think it unlikely that some incriminating aspect of the affair was used by Brown to heave Blair from office in September 2006. It was old news by then anyway; and why wait three years when you knew about it at the time - which Brown did, without doubt. As one Commons source told The Slog last week:
"We're pretty clear on the fact that whatever Brown used on Blair in 2006, the Chancellor had only recently found out about it. Brown is not a patient man. If he has dirt, he gets it out there, without hesitation".
Other ticking time bombs
Having already discounted two (perhaps three) alleged subjects for blackmail, it will be useful at this point to list the others bandied around by gossips, bloggers and genuine insiders. In no particular order they are:
* The Donorgate Scandal of March 2006
* Corrupt property dealings supposedly conducted by both Tony Blair and his wife Cherie
* A cast-iron 'deal' with President Bush (dating back to late 2001) to 'get Saddam'
* Bullying advisors and misleading both Cabinet and Parliament on war legality immediately prior to the Iraq invasion of 2003
* Corruption relating to the Saudis from which Blair is said to have benefited personally on a massive scale. ( The BaE arms-supply bribery scandal, dating back to a deal in the mid 1980s)
* The death of senior MoD civil servant David Kelly following leaks about the 'dodgy WMD dossier' to the BBC
* A new allegation of which The Slog was made aware last month.
This latest allegation has largely inspired The Slogger's consistent blogging on the subject in recent weeks.
Compiling a shortlist
As we wrote in yesterday's posting, Donorgate had already been the probable subject of Brown's March 2006 threat to 'bring down' Tony Blair...but it didn't. The Blair family property dealings were widely known about anyway: by 2006, those who had already decided that Tony Blair was a crooked phoney (whose wife had some decidedly dodgy advisors) were unlikely to be impressed by more of the same. And Blair's glib response to all attacks on his personal greed suggest, once again, that such revelations would not have made him beat the hasty retreat he did.
The Bush 'deal' (and there seems little doubt now that this did exist) and the bullying of advisors/misleading Parliament charges might have been known by Brown.....and known later than other people, because - as both he and Clare Short have asserted - he was 'sidelined' during the Iraq War. However, in recent weeks we have seen Blair brazen out both subjects effortlessly in front of a televised official inquiry. He was hardly likely to have believed Brown could nail him in such arcane areas (where there was no written evidence) in the Court of Public Opinion.
As for the rest, for all kinds of personal and 'legacy' reasons, they might have been more than enough to push the Prime Minister into a resignation corner. We shall examine each in turn.
Is this scenario believable anyway?
It's important before going any further to establish clearly that the 'blackmail' possibility is a real one, as opposed to just the product of a fertile imagination. There are three key reasons why the possibility is entirely credible:
i. Tony Blair has demonstrated dubious, unethical behaviour on several occasions - as well as a talent for serial betrayal and misleading claims. Whether one regards these as vital equipment for any Prime Minister or not, there seems little doubt that, as a man with 'a past', he was open to blackmail by a betrayed colleague obsessed with taking his job.
We have collected information from well-placed sources who all attest to the reality of Blair's growing megalomania after 2000. Many people in and around Westminster are (without a trace of drama queenery) convinced that he was 'capable of anything' during a period which ran roughly up to 2004.
There was still a trace of this last year, when Tony Blair uttered his astonishing "without WMD, I'd have to have found another reason" to invade. To all appearances, he is a man who believes he can rationalise any action....except one which was provably done for his own material gain.
Such people are, indeed, potentially capable of anything.
ii. Brown has form going back many years as a mudslinger. This has been more than amply demonstrated by Peter Watt's Inside Out account of Brown having his little exercise book and siphoning off Party funds with the sole objective of finding damaging material to use against his boss.
iii. Yesterday's Slog timeline analysis (strongly pointing to one two-hour period of Blair cave-in) is impossible to explain without something very big and deeply incriminating having landed on his head. We have received nothing so far - either from official or journalistic sources - ridiculing, contradicting or denying the nature of that analysis.
Remember: Peter Watt arrives at Number Ten in the early eveningof that day, and finds Blair 'grey and shell-shocked'.
What might Brown have discovered late on that horrified Blair?
A good many observers have their money on the Blair's interference in the BaE bribery scandal inquiry - something in the news again of late following the decision to fine BaE via an out-of-Court settlement.
Blair took this amazing step - one that even Lord Goldmith vigorously opposed as 'entirely unjustified and inappropriate' - with a degree of urgency because he had been personally and bluntly informed by the Saudis that they would arm terrorists sufficently to wreak havoc in Britain if Blair didn't stop the case proceeding. We understand Lord Goldsmith did not know this at the time .
All Blair has ever admitted to is a fear of 'security cooperation' being removed. But we have had the Saudi threat asserted and corroborated by three sources - none of whom, it seems to us, has an axe to grind.
There is a further reason for our confidence: Brown wouldn't have had access to the dirt, even if there was any. Tony Blair installed his loyal ally John Reid at the Home Office....and Reid delighted in foiling every attempt by the Brownshirts to dig something up on the case. (Needless to say, when Brown was 'crowned' Leader, Gnasher Reid resigned instantly).
We understand from sources close to senior Libdem figures that, although Nick Clegg's main concern was to establish Brown's role as a cheque-writer, others in the Party felt Brown's 'Iraq dirt' on Blair had more chance of success. (Events are suggesting they may well have been right).
The David Kelly affair remains one 'conspiracy' about which even the upright, respectable and doubting majority have severe doubts.
There are very good reasons for suspicion. Here was one man about to potentially screw up the whole Iraq operation; a credible expert with impeccable credentials, the BBC (as the national broadcaster) giving credence to his claims; and a chap who seemed completely unwilling - even when outed by those close to Campbell - to shut up.
A good man to silence, then. But a bad man to kill and make it look like suicide: he had no history of depression, had nowhere near enough pills in his body, and used the most unlikely instrument (a blunt garden fork) to 'commit suicide'.
Therefore an important case to cover up: hence the slapping of a seventy-year gagging order on the case....and a refusal so far to reopen the case.
There are some facts we can assemble with minimal doubt. Alistair Campbell seems to have orchestrated the smear campaign against Kelly. Further, he must have said some pretty disturbing things to the BBC hierarchy as to what was at stake. A central media figure in the drama told The Slog last week:
'You wouldn't have believed it could happen outside the pages of a bad novel. Campbell was like a Mafia don....raving and swearing. He scared the Governors shitless. We were left in no doubt, no doubt at all, that the BBC was, as he put it, "out of it's fucking depth". The chilling thing was that his threats were all totally believable.'
Following Campbell's insistence on the Marr show last weekend that Tony Blair's preparation of the dossier was 'meticulously careful', another senior media figure observing Blair at the time said:
'The idea is laughable. First off, Tony's not made that way. And more to the point, he was going through his I Walk on Water phase. Everything was being done at breakneck speed and with complete ruthlessness. Blair wasn't interested in the truth,he wanted a guilty verdict on Saddam and he didn't care a fig how he got it. I can fully believe that he really did beat up Goldsmith to get him to change his mind.'
This was obviously a pivotal life-moment for Blair. By all accounts, he believed in what he was doing: and like so many people who believe, he felt the ends justified the means. (See once again the Fern Brittan interview of 2009).
But on the other hand, doubts can be cast over this as a weapon Brown might use. In the last two weeks, the Government has shown itself quite willing to release the Kelly autopsy evidence to the 13-man group of doctors bringing a private case to overturn the suicide verdict. This would seem odd behaviour for an Establishment trying to cover up a murder plot.
Further, extensive Slog enquiries have failed to come up with the 'colleague' to whom Robin Cook is alleged to have confided about 'Cabinet involvement in Dr Kelly's death'. (Cook is also, conveniently, not alive to deny the claim).
But once more, we have to ask ourselves how Gordon Brown might come into possession of information linking any Government figure (let alone Tony Blair) to a murder which, we must surely assume, was carried out by the security services with no written orders or other evidence to prove it one way or the other.
And if you were an MI6 or MI5 maverick, why on earth would you tell Gordon Brown? Six months later, he might be your boss: surely it would've been leaked more discreetly and effectively to a security specialist in the media.
I retain an open mind about Kelly's death. I think at such a crucial time in British history, the security services would have carried out a hit without a second thought. But would a Prime Minister leave his prints on the garden fork - and could Gordon Brown have proved that? I think not.
Perhaps the question at issue here is better expressed as 'Who might have helped Brown....and been in a position to know the truth about something damaging via a position of authority?" With the supplementary, "And who might have wanted revenge?"
Justice Minister Jack Straw
There can be no doubt that in both the UK and the US, a huge amount of corrupt armed-services supply deals were done - with and without the knowledge of government. Somehow though, it's hard to stick (even on Blair) a charge of doing it for the money - and remain credible. People (with the possible exception of Mark Thatcher) don't invade sovereign states for the money. Oil, yes - quite probably: but not for a personal 'bung'.
However, there remains one very odd BaE equipment deal that Tony Blair personally forced through. It didn't involve invading anyone, and it wasn't just before or during a war. But it was done by Blair with a Head of State who was corrupt....and whom he knew personally.
The case involved the sale of very expensive radar equipment to Tanzania - a fairly insignificant country with neither army nor air force to justify the purchase. Clare Short explains:
"Every way you looked at it, it was outrageous and disgraceful. And guess who absolutely insisted on it going through? My dear friend Tony Blair.
"It was an obviously corrupt project. Tanzania didn't need a new military air traffic control, it was out-of-date technology, they didn't have any military aircraft – they needed a civilian air traffic control system and there was a modern, much cheaper one. Everyone talks about good governance in Africa as though it is an African problem. Often the root of the 'badness' is Europe."
Over many years of investigating graft in corporate life, I have discovered three things that are omnipresent: the flagrant avoidance of normal purchasing procedures; the lack of any real rationale for the purchase; and some 'fat 'in the price quoted....thus allowing for what US corporates sometimes call 'spreading around the goodwill'.
In the Middle East and Black Africa, a corporate or governmental supply deal without bribery and kick-backs is almost unheard-of. What makes this one interesting is Blair's personal - very personal - interest in it. Not as a man intervening for some 'higher' good: but as (seemingly) a facilitator actively involved.
Recently, The Slog has established the following:
1. The deal was vehemently opposed by senior cabinet members including Chancellor Gordon Brown. (My italics - source: Clare Short)
2. Jack Straw learned of the deal when he became Foreign Secretary after the 2001 election. According to two sources, he knows some startling details about it.
3. The police showed Clare Short documents showing conclusively that bribery had taken place.
4. When Tanzania's founding father Julius Nyerere died in 1999, Benjamin Mkapa paid tribute to Tony Blair and the British government for looking after the man who liked to be addressed as "Mwalimu", or "teacher". In 2001, Mkapa, by now president of Tanzania, was acknowledged throughout Africa as being 'even closer to Blair, after buying a British-made air traffic control system for Dar es Salaam airport'.
4. Mkapa later became one of the very few leaders to actively support the Blair/Bush Global War on Terrorism. By 2005, most of Tanzania's overseas debts had been mysteriously cancelled.
5. Jakaya Kikwete (Mkapa's successor) was voluble over many years on the subject of Mkapa's personal gain from the deal. As reported by The Guardian in 2007, British police flew out to investigate claims that as much as 30% of the radar's cost had been assigned for 'creaming off' by some of the key players.
6. Tanzania's Attorney General at the time, Andrew Chenge, resigned on April 20, 2008 after the Guardian reported that the minister had stashed away $1 million in an offshore account, and that the team investigating the sale of the military radar to Tanzania was tracing other accounts linked to the deal.
Earlier this year, a usually reliable Treasury source made this observation:
"There was talk that the (Tanzania) trail led back to Blair. Jack (Straw) was the one who knew some amazing stuff. Gordon (Brown) was genuinely appalled at the deal. The word is he picked up the trail and hit Blair between the eyes with it. I'm not sure about it. But that's what I heard".
Another interesting comment from a senior Labour backbencher late last year:
"Tony (Blair) has associated quite happily with some dreadful people - Bush for one, but also Berlusconi. Berlusconi is bent....but there's something about Tony, he loves these people - he's a bit like Peter (Mandelson) in that respect. There were rumours that Gordon was scrabbling around for dirt, and got lucky. The rumour put out was that it was the radar deal...with Tanzania. You should hear Clare (Short) on the subject...."
Several sources with whom we spoke confirmed that Jack Straw was 'quietly bitter' about being dumped by Tony Blair - allegedly following pressure from the Bush administration. The same backbencher:
"After Tony did the Yanks' bidding, Jack had both the weapon and the motive. I heard he struck a deal with Brown to get his preferred Cabinet post..."
The imputation was that Jack Straw had supplied Gordon Brown with his bombshell evidence. Another Westminster insider puts it like this:
"Jack is a chess player. He's cunning and he watches the wind direction. He definitely snuggled up to Gordon after he started pressurizing Blair in 2006.....the thing with Straw is that he knows where all the bodies are buried. I remember a Cabinet member said to me after Tony demoted him, 'that's a serious mistake'. Jack has always been a shadowy figure...."
Happy to sideline Brown during the Iraq war build-up, Jack Straw had done enough by the end of 2006 to gain Gordon's complete trust. The Chancellor handed him the job of running his campaign for the Leadership...but thanks to serious and widespread smear-briefings against any and all who expressed a desire to stand, Straw's help was never required.
Perhaps he'd helped enough already. Certainly, he got the job - Justice Minister - he wanted in a Brown Cabinet. And not many Commonsologists would've predicted that eventuality in 2003.
And there (if we're to avoid a criminal libel charge) the trail ends....for now. As a sequence of events, it makes eminent sense and hangs together on almost every basis. Further, it is - if not widely believed in Westminster - certainly a view firmly held by some influential people in government, politics and the media- none of whom one could describe as 'lunatic fringe'.
I don't see this as even the end of the beginning of the process of finding out whether or not a Prime Minister succeeded another one undeservedly as well as unelected. And I must be careful not to suggest the 'proof' which Left-wing media and New Labour's smear-brigade always seem to insist on for negative stories about them - but never for their wild allegations about others.
The fact is, I don't have the proof any more than anyone else does. But three mysteries remain, and deserve further investigation:
1. Why was Tony Blair's decision to let the worst man for the job get it so very sudden?
2. Why are so many people in and around the Westminster village prepared to believe that both Blair and Brown are corrupt and ruthless?
3. Why did Tony Blair push through a sale of radar to an obscure country at an inflated price in the teeth of widespread opposition?
Copyright The Slog, February 2010