It seems we have become so cynical that even altruism is suspicious. Take Tony Blair, for instance. The former British prime minister, the most successful western politician of his generation, announced on Monday that he was donating to charity all revenues—advance and royalties-he will earn from his forthcoming memoirs. Since his advance alone is reputed to be more than $7 million, this represents, as the Americans say, a whole chunk of change.
Remarkably, Tony Blair has been written out of recent British political history.
And how was this news greeted? With sourness and suspicion. The fact that Blair's chosen charity is the Royal British Legion, an organization that cares for ex-servicemen, only made the gift all the more reprehensible to his detractors.
The press was quick to downplay the significance and even the seriousness of Blair's donation. Everyone was keen to point out that the gift reduced Blair's tax liability by at least $3.5 million, while the papers also lovingly catalogued the millions he has made from speeches and business consultancy since he was driven from office in 2007. The Daily Telegraph's headline was typical: "Tony Blair and the millions he keeps out of the public eye.” The effect was to suggest that since Blair can afford to forgo his millions, his generosity is somehow debased.
The best the Daily Mail could do was to concede, with evident reluctance, that "For once in his war-mongering, money-grubbing career, Tony Blair has done something decent." Even then and by ways of balancing this grudging admission, "outraged" relatives of the war dead were invited to lash Blair one more time. "It's a PR stunt. Some would call this blood money," said Joan Humphreys, whose grandson was killed in Afghanistan last year. "Too little, too late," complained another dead soldier's mother.
• Full Coverage of Tony BlairRemarkably, Blair has been written out of recent British political history. The man who led Labour to three historic, crushing election victories might as well not have existed. All that's remembered is the prime minister who took Britain into the sands of Mesopotamia, blinded, supposedly, by the clouds of 9/11 and seduced by the need to maintain the Anglo-American alliance at all or any cost. That's the charitable version of recent history.
Despite Labour's election defeat this year, none of the five candidates for the party's leadership can be considered Blair's heir. Instead, confronted by David Cameron's center-right coalition, the Labour party is drifting leftwards, forgetting the lessons of Blair's center-left victories.
Much of the left, and the media, can never forgive Blair for Iraq nor accept that his decisions, however flawed they may have been, were made in good faith and upon the evidence available at the time. The shrillest voices are those who initially supported the war but now wash their hands of their own past and embarrassing enthusiasm for the Iraq adventure.
You'd never guess from their furious typing that the country was evenly divided on the merits of the Iraq invasion. No, they were all hoodwinked into a war waged on the falsest of false premises by "Tony Bliar.” Now 500 dead soldiers later, Blair has "blood on his hands" that no amount of do-goodery can wash away. Hence the cynicism and second-guessing that has greeted Blair's charity. The one thing that cannot be countenanced is the thought that his motives might be as open, transparent, and genuine as he says they are or as an objective observer might conclude.
In the end, one can only conclude that Blair cannot win. Had he kept the money he will earn from his memoirs, he would surely have been condemned as some kind of war profiteer. Conversely, giving the money away "proves" he must have a guilty conscience.
One thing, however, is clear: the British press is the loser here, and the wounded soldiers who will benefit from Blair's generosity are the winners. That, at least, is something.
Alex Massie is a former Washington correspondent for The Scotsman and The Daily Telegraph. He currently writes for The Spectator and blogs at www.spectator.co.uk/alexmassie.