from DailyMaverick Website
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair waves as he leaves a Diamond Jubilee lunch
with Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister David Cameron
and former Prime Ministers Gordon Brown
and John Major at Downing Street in central London on July 24, 2012.
If Tony Blair secretly yearns for the quiet life, he hides it well.
Since his resignation as Prime Minister in 2007, he has seemed busier than ever:
It is with this latter role that he travels to
South Africa this week, to address the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit
at the Sandton Convention Centre.
Discovery’s financial heft has helped line up a stellar roster of speakers:
Also on the speakers’ list is Russian chess grandmaster and opposition politician Garry Kasparov, who for a while looked unlikely to attend after being detained by Russian authorities on 17 August following his attendance of a rally in support of imprisoned feminist punk band Pussy Riot.
Kasparov was unexpectedly acquitted of all
charges by the Khamovniki court on Friday, however, so it looks like he’ll
be free to travel after all.
It would be interesting to know how much Blair will be taking home from this gig. It has been claimed that he is one of the most expensive public speakers in the world, allegedly commanding fees of up to £6,000 a minute.
In March this year it was reported that the Stanford University students’ association approached Blair to give a talk and were quoted $50,000 for security and transport costs alone.
In addition, British tabloids claimed late last week that Blair continues to cost the British taxpayer around £400,000 per year:
The reason for that high security bill is that Blair may be a big-name draw, but he also has a chequered reputation, and where he travels, trouble often follows.
Earlier this month it was reported by the Mail & Guardian that the South African Muslim Network executive committee was unhappy about Blair being given a platform by the Discovery Summit to lecture on leadership, given his role in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The newspaper reported the committee was in talks about protest actions that might be taken if Blair were to arrive, including marches and sit-ins.
They said at the time they were investigating
the feasibility of having a warrant of arrest issued against him.
Leaked memos from 2002 have shown that then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw informed Blair the proposed invasion would not meet the criteria required for legality.
A key requirement for a legal war is that it
must be declared by a state anticipating or experiencing an armed attack, a
scenario subsequently found not to be the case in the Iraq war. Blair also
admitted that he disregarded the initial warning of his attorney general,
Lord Goldsmith, that the invasion would be illegal.
The unanimous verdict found Bush and Blair guilty, but acknowledged the verdict was non-enforceable, though the findings were reported to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The neutrality of proceedings were questionable,
however, as the tribunal was the initiative of former Malaysian Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is staunchly anti-West and has accused
the ICC of bias in terms of the figures it chooses to prosecute.
Part of the delay is due to a row over whether
Cabinet officials are willing to publish certain sensitive documents, such
as notes passed between Blair and Bush, and records of their conversations.
It was only at the end of his testimony that he got down to this question.
“And no regrets?” the inquiry Chairman then pushed.
Earlier this year, Blair attracted criticism again when he appeared before the Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics to give evidence about his relationship with Rupert Murdoch (known to be close, because Blair is the godfather to Murdoch’s daughter Grace).
It had emerged that Blair had taken time off from his busy PM’s schedule to make three phone calls to Murdoch in the build-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003. It is now widely believed the purpose of these calls was to lobby Murdoch for positive press coverage of the war.
Blair denied this at the inquiry, saying,
At his Leveson hearing, Blair was nonetheless confronted by a protestor from the Alternative Iraq Inquiry bursting into the room to yell,
Over the past few years he has also been subjected to at least four attempts by members of the public to issue a citizen’s arrest on him for war crimes, spurred by the Arrest Blair website, which is currently advertising Blair’s attendance at the Johannesburg summit.
The website, established by environmentalist and
Guardian columnist George Monbiot, collects donations to financially
reward anyone who attempts to carry out a peaceful citizen’s arrest on
When asked whether the Society’s legal bid had any chance of success, he replied:
The Society for the Protection of Our Constitution has had an eclectic record of concerns up till now.
Some of the issues it has successfully tackled
have been prosaic: in June 2011 it secured a court order against the mayor
of the Victor Khanye Local Municipality in Mpumalanga to force it to repair
Among the concerns it cited at the time was that
the bill might be amended in line with the Constitution to allow same-sex
marriage, prohibited by Islam.
Khan said the group expected to hear back from the NPA by Monday afternoon, and if its bid failed, the next step would be an interdict from the High Court.
They will also be organizing a protest outside
Discovery’s Johannesburg headquarters Thursday afternoon, though Khan was at
pains to stress that the beef was not with Discovery, which is merely
Are there any other world leaders they would like to see similarly prosecuted for war crimes?
Neither Discovery nor the NPA responded to comment on the issue of Blair’s arrest warrant on Sunday.
Given South Africa’s infamous timidity when it comes to rocking the boat with international figures, however, it seems highly unlikely that the Society’s appeal will come to anything.
In all likelihood, the worst Blair can probably expect is some accusations yelled at him from afar by protestors.