This article is from the March issue of Total Politics
The architects of New Labour are out of sight but they aren’t out of mind. Finding out what they’re up to these days is easier said than done, though.
First, there’s Tony Blair, gallivanting around the world chopping and changing between his Africa charity, his green stuff and his Middle East political role. And there’s his advisory firm, although it isn’t mentioned in his memoirs.
Before Christmas, I work out that the former PM has added Kazakhstan to his roster of oil-rich clients. Tony set up the multi-million-pound deal with former colleagues, including Jonathan Powell, Tim Allan and Alastair Campbell. We get the first whiff of the story when Campbell is seen flying back from Astana to London via Vienna – President Nursultan Nazarbayev forged a friendship with Blair back in 2001 when the PM cradled baby Leo in his arms, it transpires – but only after call after call over a fortnight does spokesman Matthew Doyle admit there has been a deal.
Then there’s Lord Mandelson, former deputy prime minister (if not in name) in the last government, who still sits in the House of Lords. It would be instructive to know whom he’s now advising through his company, Global Counsel.
Under Lords rules he had to declare this by 28 January. In a stroke of genius, however, Mandy’s staff merely shifted his entry in the Lords’ register from one category to another. Hey presto! No need to declare the clients.
Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, managing partner of Global Counsel, says my report on this is terribly unfair. The FT shouldn’t be knocking “small businesses” or writing “Daily Mail” stories, he whines. There’s an obvious retort: why not just publish the clients?
And what about Gordon Brown? The Scotsman is apparently disinterested in money. I’m told that during one meeting between Gordo and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian recounted a jolly with Vladimir Putin on Roman Abramovich’s yacht. “Have you ever been on it?” he asked.
“No,” said Brown, his face curdling in disgust. “I… have… not been on Abramovitch’s yacht.”
During the quiet new year, I fish around the Commons register. It turns out the former PM’s earnings have crossed the £1m line, mainly through speeches to the likes of PIMCO, Visa and Credit Suisse.
Of course, he doesn’t keep a penny – that ‘s the formal position. It either goes to charity or “funds Sarah and Gordon Brown’s staff for continuing public service”.
All still very vague, though. The Browns’ website says their running costs are £550,000 a year on rent and staff, but their office doesn’t want to give any details.
It is -2°C, and I’m supposed to be swimming in the Serpentine with Tory hardman Desmond Swayne MP. In the dark. At 6am. For the FT Weekend Magazine. The idea was conceived during the sweltering days of October, when a dip in Hyde Park seemed a refreshing concept. Then I fell ill with an ear infection, and winter arrived.
Now we may have to wait until the spring. Not because of the freezing weather. Not at all. The light will be more photographer-friendly come April. That’s my excuse.
Mark Serwotka points to a tray bearing a teapot and three old-looking mince pies on a plate. I politely decline: Boxing Day was weeks ago. “They’re from Christmas 2011, or was it 2010?” he jokes. We are in the PCS’ ugly concrete offices around the corner from Clapham Junction station.
During last summer’s riots the nearby street was ablaze. “We had a close shave,” says Serwotka. He thinks the building was not “trashed” because the rioters saw anti-cuts banners hanging from the roof.
Serwotka is the bad boy who won’t play ball over public sector pension reform, to the fury of Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, whose constituency train goes straight past the “bloody great banners” – as he told the union leader.
It’s not great news for Ed Miliband that the PCS and Unite are mulling a merger that could eventually see the non-compliant Welshman at the head of Labour’s biggest funder. The former supporter of the Socialist Alliance tells me he’s reading I Married a Communist by Philip Roth. Will he lend it to Len McCluskey?
Business cards with facial photographs: whatever next? It’s an incipient trend among MPs. Here they are on the FT’s desk; a grinning Stella Creasy, a happy Jo Swinson and a slightly menacing Ian Davidson. I’m all for moving with modern times, but let’s stop there. No speaking holograms. No scratch ‘n’ sniff. Please, no.
Jim Pickard is political correspondent for the Financial Times