Tony Blair as Cannes keynote speaker: Putting cash in the hands of a man with blood on them

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

So TFWA has chosen former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as a keynote speaker for this year’s TFWA World Conference. Blair will apparently “share his experiences of working in international politics and offer his thoughts on Brexit, foreign policy and other pressing geopolitical matters”.

Blair, we learn from TFWA, “was responsible for implementing major domestic reform across Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with record investment in education and healthcare and transformational progress on equality and human rights”.

The association continues, “On the global stage, Mr Blair was instrumental in securing the Good Friday Agreement with Northern Ireland, created the Department for International Development to address extreme poverty around the world, and introduced landmark legislation to tackle climate change.”

And then this from TFWA President Alain Maingreaud.: “As always at the TFWA World Conference, our aim is to engage speakers who can help us better understand the times in which we live and do business.

“Our keynote speaker this year is someone with unrivalled experience of regional and global politics, who is able to address the often complex issues that are shaping the world economy. We are delighted to welcome Mr Blair to Cannes and look forward to hearing his thoughts on a wide range of issues.”

And so, into a pair of bloodied hands the travel retail industry (through TFWA) is about to pour a whole lot of cash.

Alain’s take on Tony Blair is one perspective, which in a thankfully (mostly) free world, he is entitled to. As I am entitled to mine. Which differs profoundly. As does my recollection of the former Prime Minister’s career.

Nowhere, of course in that glittering list of achievements is his role in misleading the British public and taking the UK into the disastrously ill-fated invasion of Iraq. A war that besides its immense and tragic human toll had devastating long-term repercussions for an already volatile region. Let’s not forget that the Chilcott inquiry in the UK concluded that the invasion of Iraq was unnecessary and undermined the United Nations. That disastrous war is Blair’s enduring and shameful legacy.

The findings of that inquiry even prompted former Iraqi general Abdulwaheed al-Rabbat to pursue a war crimes trial in Britain, and to attempt to bring Blair – with the former foreign secretary Jack Straw and the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith – to court.

His counsel, Michael Mansfield QC, summarised the report’s findings as following: “Saddam Hussein did not pose an urgent threat to the UK; intelligence reporting about [Iraqi] weapons of mass destruction was presented with unwarranted certainty that the war was unnecessary; and that the UK undermined the authority of the UN security council.

“Nothing could be more emphatic than these findings,” he said. “It was an unlawful war.”

That case failed to progress after judges ruled that there was no crime of aggression in English law under which the former Prime Minister could be charged.  Nothing, you will note, on the merits of the claim. And tellingly, following that decision, one third of Britons surveyed in a YouGov poll concluded that “Mr Blair knowingly misled Parliament and the public and should be tried as a war criminal”.

Estimates over the death toll (immediate and through subsequent events) from the Iraq war vary widely. But let me give you one of them. The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest scientific medical journals in the world, published two key studies on the effect of the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation on the Iraqi mortality rate.

The second survey, published on 11 October 2006, estimated 654,965 “excess deaths” related to the war, or 2.5% of the population, through to the end of June 2006. The UK lost 179 servicemen. According to Wikipedia (citing the US Department of Defense casualty website), there were 4,424 American deaths (including those killed in action and non-hostile) and 31,952 wounded in action as a result of the Iraq war.

That is a lot of blood on the hands of those men (particularly Blair and George W. Bush) who led their countries into war on a pretext proved to be false – that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction and that the Iraqi government posed a threat to the United States and its coalition allies. After the war, an intensive 15-month search by 1,200 inspectors from the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group found there were none.

And so, into a pair of bloodied hands the travel retail industry (through TFWA) is about to pour a whole lot of cash. And I mean a whole lot. According to LoveMoney.com, “The most sought-after former British politician on the after-dinner lecture circuit, ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair has made millions delivering speeches around the world since he left office in 2007. The erstwhile lawmaker can command around US$260,000 (£195k) per speech, which equates to approximately US$7,800 (£6k) per minute.”

How much? There are so many better ways to spend TFWA members’ money than to give it to such a man. How about inviting a speaker who is playing a leadership role to stop mankind’s destruction of the planet – a key issue facing all sectors of the aviation and tourism industries? How about an advocate from the #MeToo movement, a global rising up against the abhorrence of sexual harassment and assault?

“For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – Blair’s appointment was an insult.”

How about Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and champion for gender equality and education, who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out publicly about the importance of education for girls?  Ms Yousafzai has since founding the Malala Fund, a non-profit that breaks down the barriers that prevent 130 million girls worldwide from going to school.

Or how about Tegla Loroupe, renowned Kenyan long-distance track and road runner, and founder of the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation? Her mission is “to improve peace building, livelihoods and resilience of poor people affected by and vulnerable to conflicts and civil strife in the world.”

But no. We have Tony Blair. Not only the former Prime Minister of the UK but also, incredibly, one-time Middle East envoy representing the US, Russia, the UN and the EU. After Blair quit the role eight years in, esteemed British journalist Robert Fisk wrote, “For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – Blair’s appointment was an insult. The man who never said he was sorry for his political disaster… managed to accomplish absolutely nothing in the near-decade that followed.”

Both TFWA’s choice of Blair as a keynote speaker and their selective description of him are inappropriate and I suspect, to many in our industry, offensive. TFWA is a good and effective association but it has called this one wrong.

I, for one, will not be there to see him help us “better understand the times in which we live”. In very large part, he has contributed to the darkest of those times.

Footnote: We have asked TFWA how much it is paying Blair and will report any reply.

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  • Dear Martin
    This is an immensely critical and emotional issue in the UK.
    I wholeheartedly agree with your comments, I will also not attend the keynote speech.

  • So wrong, and let us not forget Julia Gillard as another poor choice by TFWA considering her efforts that led to the change of Duty-Free laws in Australia

  • Martin – Just read your blog and I agree Tony Blair is a poor choice of keynote speaker for the TFWA.
    In 2014 I remember thinking the Association had made a bad choice in Colin Powell as keynote speaker. Powell’s career could undoubtedly be considered exceptional in many ways, however, it was Powell who had gone to the UN Security Council with misinformation to push us into that “unlawful” war. Yet he seemed to have washed his hands of it, just like Blair has done.
    From a purely pragmatic perspective, the proponents of war are no friends to our industry. Based on his role in the Iraq war (not to mention my feelings about the war’s illegality and devastating human toll) how could Colin Powell have been an appropriate keynote speaker at our conference? The Iraq war is Colin Powell’s legacy. It is also Tony Blair’s.
    Here in 2019 the Association’s choice again seems poor, both from a values and a business perspective. They should have been challenged in 2014.
    It’s right to challenge them now.

  • Hi Martin

    I have just read the latest newsletter and am frankly appalled that the TFWA have invited Tony Blair to speak – its only made worse by the fact they will be paying him. Like you I am deeply affronted by this action and can only conclude the TFWA either had been rejected by virtually everyone else on the planet, was unable to think coherently for 20 seconds, or really do not have a piece of moral fibre in the organisation.