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Blair Disease
April 6, 2014 7:45 AM   Subscribe

"At a reception recently I met the former president of a small post-communist country. I know that’s what he was because he told me so immediately. He then began dropping names of London-based ex-Soviet oligarchs – his friends and business associates, he implied.

This man had Blair Disease, named for ex-prime minister Tony Blair: the growing propensity of former heads of government to monetise their service. Blair Disease is damaging but easily cured." -- From Simon Kuper in the Financial Times
posted by MartinWisse (38 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Selling out"? Exactly what principle would be upheld by turning down a ridiculous paycheck?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:54 AM on April 6 [2 favorites]


It’s easy to cure Blair Disease: bar ex-leaders from doing paid work for private interests. This free measure would instantly deflate populism [...]

I have no idea what to make of this essay.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:00 AM on April 6 [2 favorites]


From the same paragraph:
Selling out arguably damages even the ex-leaders themselves. These people care about their reputations. When Blair resigned in 2007, the House of Commons gave him an ovation. Today most Britons would agree with Greg Dyke, unseated as head of the BBC by Blair’s government, who says: “I think Blair now is a very sad man, rich, but [he] betrayed everything the Labour party was about.”
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:01 AM on April 6 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: dropping names of London-based ex-Soviet oligarchs
posted by Fizz at 8:03 AM on April 6 [4 favorites]


Just 20 years ago the British ex-prime minister Harold Wilson was showing up at the House of Lords stricken with Alzheimer’s, led by his nurse, because he needed the daily attendance fee.
Ah, the good old days.
posted by Etrigan at 8:07 AM on April 6 [6 favorites]


Selling out arguably damages even the ex-leaders themselves. These people care about their reputations. When Blair resigned in 2007, the House of Commons gave him an ovation. Today most Britons would agree with Greg Dyke, unseated as head of the BBC by Blair’s government, who says: “I think Blair now is a very sad man, rich, but [he] betrayed everything the Labour party was about.”

Perhaps I'm missing something British. Why is taking ridiculously high paying jobs betraying the Labour Party?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:11 AM on April 6


Funny, I thought it was what Blair did WHILE HE HELD OFFICE that betrayed Labour, not his activities after.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:29 AM on April 6 [19 favorites]


Blair didn't betray the Labour Party by taking a high-paying job after he left office, but by his actions while still Prime Minister.
posted by Thing at 8:30 AM on April 6


Tell Me No Lies: "Why is taking ridiculously high paying jobs betraying the Labour Party?"

The Labour Party is nominally the left wing, socialist party, formed to support the workers, not the rich.
posted by Auz at 8:33 AM on April 6


It's a variation on the lobbying problem in the U.S. isn't it? i.e. that policies you adopt whilst in office are influenced by the jobs you plan to get after you leave office.

If you make nice with Wall Street, etc. while in office, some pretty nice sinecures come your way afterwards. If you're hostile to those interests, then you're in a job with a fragile long-term prospects, which monied people are actively trying to get you fired from, and no obvious way to pay your bills and take care of your family should you lose it.
posted by idb at 8:50 AM on April 6 [6 favorites]


Maybe I'm a jaded American but this seems like pretty standard behavior for ex-public officials.
posted by octothorpe at 8:51 AM on April 6 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm a jaded American but this seems like pretty standard behavior for ex-public officials.

I was about to say, "Blair Disease" sounds more like a variant of "Congressional Herpes".
posted by Thorzdad at 8:56 AM on April 6 [4 favorites]


Selling out...

"What happened to you, man? You've changed, it used to be about the illegal wars."
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:05 AM on April 6 [21 favorites]


Today most Britons would agree with Greg Dyke, unseated as head of the BBC by Blair’s government, who says: “I think Blair now is a very sad man, rich, but [he] betrayed everything the Labour party was about.”
Come on, don't be so hard on him-- poodles need somebody to hold the leash.
posted by jamjam at 9:23 AM on April 6


Well, I have it on good authority from John Roberts that this sort of behavior is in no way associated with corruption.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:47 AM on April 6 [4 favorites]


For Blair to be a sad man, he would have to have emotions.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:58 AM on April 6 [1 favorite]


> Maybe I'm a jaded American but this seems like pretty standard behavior for ex-public officials.

That's... exactly what he's saying. Does "standard" = "OK" in your book?
posted by languagehat at 12:06 PM on April 6 [3 favorites]


Not OK but definitely in the class of things that you can't do much about.
posted by octothorpe at 12:21 PM on April 6


It's definitely not OK in my book. Any same person had their eye on the future, but if by doing so, you betray the public trust whilst in office, then shame on you.

What Blair did when he was PM betrayed the whole country, not just the Labour party.
posted by arcticseal at 12:22 PM on April 6


>>Tell Me No Lies: "Why is taking ridiculously high paying jobs betraying the Labour Party?"

The Labour Party is nominally the left wing, socialist party, formed to support the workers, not the rich.


That's what I thought. Sooo...taking over a large corporation and enacting terrible worker policies? That's bad. Joining a lobbying firm that works against the Labour Party? That's bad. Taking a high paying job? That's . . . bad?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:28 PM on April 6


This article may be helpful to non-UK readers in explaining how and why Blair's reputation has diminished since he left office:
"You couldn't make it up," says a former member of the New Labour inner circle. "Just when you thought Tony's behaviour couldn't get any more bizarre … His actions would be strange even for the most dyed-in-the-wool capitalist ex-prime minister, but for a Labour one, I think it looks terrible. It makes mugs of many of the people who supported him in office. He's trashed the New Labour brand."
It's not just about the money. But the money is an embarrassment, as it means that the Labour Party can't speak out against excessive pay without someone asking the awkward question: 'What about Blair?'
posted by verstegan at 12:58 PM on April 6 [4 favorites]


Gosh, I expected some insightful comments here, but what mainly we're getting is, "Why is the revolving door bad?"

Revolving doors are bad because they are a gross conflict of interest. They allow companies to bribe public officials at any level, indetectably - "If you do this thing for us, we'll give you this ridiculously-highly-paid sinecure when you get out."

As idb points out above, you don't even need an actual bribe to have it negatively affect your decision-making. If you have a choice between two policies, one of which will help the electorate, and one of which will help a few companies which have historically hired revolving-door candidates, it would be hard not to have your decision affected.

There's also confidentiality. As a senior government official, you are privy to all sorts of information that isn't public knowledge - which when you leave you can immediately be paid to spill it to the highest bidder.

All of these things are corrosive to proper governance and also reek of impropriety, abrading the limited trust remaining between the population and its leaders.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:08 PM on April 6 [12 favorites]


I agree it's bad thing, I just don't see any possible solution. The only people who could be making the rules to prevent a revolving door are the same people who benefit by the current situation. What legislator is going to vote against his own future meal ticket?
posted by octothorpe at 1:15 PM on April 6


So - I've seen the populist "PAY POLITICIANS REAL WAGES" tripe on Facebook now and then. Especially after one of the US Congresscritters (it was reported on Fox News, so you know it was a Dem that said it) said something about being "underpaid".

I replied to one of my friends on this issue who is more left-wing on this explaining why that's a bad idea. Now a more, well, I don't know, exactly, what he is, the typical anti-gmo type person, not sure his stance on vaccines... He was in the military, I know that. Anyways, he posted the most recent version (based on the aforementioned 'underpaid' comments), and so I had to reply again. Oh, and this graphic showed the politicians with their 140k or whatever it is, with a soldier and like 25k, and I admit I don't know enough details about soldier's lives to make any argument on over vs underpaid, but I did make the point that I do think we treat soldiers like shit when they actually DO need us, not just cheering for war... Anyways..

The argument the politician said was "We are essentially on the board of executives of one the most important countries on the planet." And that is very true.

I made the point that compared to the private sector they make a lot less money. My friends' friend said "well they should go work there then!" and missed out on my other point...

One could make the argument that lowering benefits and income paid by the public to their so-called 'servants' means they are likely to look elsewhere to supplement that income. AKA: Bribes.

You think shit is bad NOW? Wait til they only make 50k a year.

Sometimes I almost think we should have an honest to god chamber of aristocrats just like the house of lords. Yeah, we have the senate which was a half-ass attempt to moderate a full-on house of lords and give it some minor attempt at reducing pure populist representative democracy by dividing voting along not just personal lines, but also state lines. Of course, that was part of the whole slavery bullshit as well.

How, exactly, do you prevent someone from working in the private sector after serving in the public sector? And does this only mean politicians? What about the revolving door with not just politicians, but their staff and the fucking lobbyists? You have a whole political class that would have to follow these rules.
posted by symbioid at 1:21 PM on April 6


The market for Michael Sheen impersonators is not what Tony hoped.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:27 PM on April 6 [3 favorites]


Just 20 years ago the British ex-prime minister Harold Wilson was showing up at the House of Lords stricken with Alzheimer’s, led by his nurse, because he needed the daily attendance fee.

Well I dunno, maybe they couldn't keep him at home? Alzheimer's is funny that way. I find it touching when people are kind to the old guy who would remember he wasn't still in charge if only his memory was actually there.
posted by glasseyes at 2:38 PM on April 6


It’s easy to cure Blair Disease: bar ex-leaders from doing paid work for private interests. This free measure would instantly deflate populism, keep experience inside government and attract a better class of person to the job.

I don't see how attracting people who wish to remain relatively low public servants improves the class of people running for office. Some of our politician's in the U.S. were millionaires before they took office. Why should they want less after serving than before?
posted by Michele in California at 3:10 PM on April 6


Most of our politicians in the US are money grubbers. Virtually all of them come from the managementt side of the business world. I think the whole point might be that maybe we should try giving the reigns to people who aren't pathologically fixated on acquiring wealth now and then because, you know, just maybe they have a healthier, better rounded point of view.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:54 PM on April 6 [5 favorites]


I agree it's bad thing, I just don't see any possible solution.

Really? Actually really? Wow you poor Americans live in a country so fucked you've forgotten it can be any other way.

Many countries ban former ministers from working in industries they held a portfolio in, or ban for a set period time after holding office.

In Australia long serving mps and heads of state get a very generous, typically six figure pension on leaving parliament. Note this does not apply to one term wonders.

We still have this problem, and parliament is working aggressively to undermine existing bans when not appointing former colleagues to boards and postings they are generally hopelessly unqualified for, but nowhere on the scale of the U.S., for example.

It can and is dealt with all across the world.
posted by smoke at 5:54 PM on April 6 [9 favorites]


This has been a depressing thread. I don't see how anybody with any kind of understanding of human behavior, the effects of incentives on said behavior, or any kind of historical knowledge of the effects and origins of political corruption could not see that this is a HUGE FUCKING PROBLEM.

I also don't see how anyone with any knowledge of industry rules like non-compete contracts, professional rules regarding conflicts of interest, or knowledge of how this problem is dealt with in other countries couldn't see any possible solutions.

I think somebody said something outrageous on twitter, though. Maybe we will get 300+ comments debating that.
posted by eagles123 at 6:14 PM on April 6


Blair Disease was kind of a logical result of New Labour. (I'm embarrassed how much I bought into that stuff in 1997.)

The Guardian posted an interview with Tony Benn from 2006 last month when he passed. He wasn't a psychic and saw this coming.
posted by kendrak at 6:31 PM on April 6


This has been a depressing thread. I don't see how anybody with any kind of understanding of human behavior, the effects of incentives on said behavior, or any kind of historical knowledge of the effects and origins of political corruption could not see that this is a HUGE FUCKING PROBLEM.

Perhaps people have moved way beyond that and are on to how they would prefer the problem manifest itself.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:47 PM on April 6


Some of our politician's in the U.S. were millionaires before they took office. Why should they want less after serving than before?

See I feel sentiments like this buy into the idea that rich people are just better at everything - why should we care what people are earning when they take office? How does that qualify them for office - presumably their wealth was either inherited or gained in areas completely outside politics, so why would it translate that they would be an ideal choice? They could well be terrible at representation.

Further, accepting that rich people are just more successful at everything in life, and would make a good politic ian, how would it be good for democracy, if our governments were dominated by the elite?

I would suggest that experience shows political bodies composed entirely of society's 1% are actually pretty terrible for the majority of people.
posted by smoke at 7:55 PM on April 6 [5 favorites]


But at this point the 1% are mostly the only ones who a) have the means to run a campaign; b) have the safety net of a high-paying professional career to fall back on should they lose; and c) have the safety net of high level industry contacts to fall back on after they serve. All of these things reduce the risk of leaving a private sector job to do public service. The rest of us run a huge risk in setting aside a moderate or working class career to run a campaign and also to serve if elected.
posted by spicynuts at 7:49 AM on April 7 [2 favorites]


The rest of us run a huge risk in setting aside a moderate or working class career to run a campaign and also to serve if elected.

Especially if we're told that we either can't use the expertise accrued in that career while in government or never be able to work in it again if we do.
posted by Etrigan at 8:24 AM on April 7


That's why mandatory public campaign financing would actually be a pro-democratic reform, not socialist tyranny, as it would democratize the campaign process.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:33 AM on April 7 [1 favorite]


I would suggest that experience shows political bodies composed entirely of society's 1% are actually pretty terrible for the majority of people.

I very much agree with this last line but I feel like my words were somewhat twisted by your response.

I am not saying at all that people who are rich are simply better at everything. I have known a lot of people with very serious financial problems who were willing and able to provide me important support (information, emotional support, insight, other things you can't put a price tag on) that I could not find any other way. But the reality is that it takes a lot of money to get into public office and the reality is that people who are poor are often poor not due to incompetence per se but due to being overwhelmed by events. People with such big personal problems that they can't get their personal act together generally do not make good leaders. They simply do not have it to give, even if they wanted to.

I have long had enormous disdain for people who wish to simply throw money at a problem. I hesitate to say this because my remarks on the topic often wind up deleted, so it seems somewhat pointless to bother to say it, but I have a form a cystic fibrosis, as does my oldest son. We have figured out how to get ourselves well. Part of the price: we are currently homeless and deeply in debt.

Off the top of my head: there are about 30,000 people in the U.S who have Cystic Fibrosis. The average annual cost for medical care alone is about $100,000/patient. That's roughly $3 billion annually for medical care alone for these people. Many are retired on disability by age 30 and die in their mid thirties. That very high medical cost does not get them well. It basically drags out their suffering. Doctors told me bluntly "People like you don't get well. Symptom management is the name of the game.

At one time, I had hoped to find a way to share what I know so others could also get well. The response: I have been thrown off of multiple lists and forums and there is no place on the Internet (or on the planet) where it is okay for me to talk about any of this. It looks increasingly likely to me that what I know will never help another soul. I am a former homemaker and now a "crazy" homeless person. No one is interested in what I know. Most people are very interested in dismissing me as simply delusional.

So while I think I did the right thing by eschewing solutions that threw money at my problems and I am pleased with the fact that I and my sons are getting healthy, it looks extremely unlikely that I will ever exercise any kind of meaningful influence in the world. You can say all you like that rich people are not inherently better than others but I assure you that being destitute is a great way to have no credibility and make sure no one takes you seriously.

Given that humans are a form of ape and apes generally go with what alpha males promote, rich men are the ones best positioned to get things done. It may not be a perfect solution but I am not finding a viable alternative.

Anyway, I imagine this will be deleted and land me back on the mods shit list, so I shall go do other things now rather than waste any more of my time and effort trying to share my experiences or what I think about anything.

Have a good day.
posted by Michele in California at 11:54 AM on April 7


Like Spicynuts said, if you're not independently wealthy a political career is a tremendous personal risk. I wrote about this on another site along these same lines.

Right now, if I have a good career in the private sector, in order to become a politician I have to leave a good job which provides security for my family, to spend a chunk of time (supporting myself how exactly?) campaigning for a job I might get, and which I stand a reasonable chance of losing in 2 years, by which time I'll be out of date in my profession and, if not starting from scratch, certainly starting again on the professional ladder.

Let's say that I take those risks (and with young kids and a regular job, it's a pretty massive risk, I'd say), and I make it to congress. While I'm there, I spend 75% of my time begging people for money, and I'm surrounded by millionaires and lobbyists, etc who throw money around like water. I'm responsible for making decisions about billions of dollars, I'm at the political center of the world, and I'm supposed to be content to walk away from it after a few years and start my career from scratch again a thousand miles away? If, while I'm there, a lobbyist suggests to me that if I look kindly on their proposals, I may have a good consulting gig that will support me and my family when I'm done, it seems to me that it would be pretty darn difficult to not give them some special attention.

This is why I think proposals about cutting congressional pay have it backwards. Part of me thinks that once you make it to congress you should get a salary for life even if you get voted out after 2 years, in order to insulate you from those influences.
posted by idb at 1:46 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


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