Blood money for Blair?

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
August 18, 2010, 12:57 AM GMT+0

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has attracted a deluge of criticism on TellYouGov as news emerged yesterday that he is planning to donate all proceeds from his forthcoming memoir to the Royal British Legion, a charity specialising in rehabilitating, supporting and honouring soldiers.

The topic ‘Tony Blair’ has seen its volume score soar to 414, up 338 points in the past 24 hours, while its sentiment score has plummeted in tandem, falling 242 points to a lowly -280, making it the worst ranked topic on the board, and rapidly overtaking habitual first and second place stalwarts David Cameron and Nick Clegg. This suggests that people have been especially eager to comment negatively on Blair’s actions surrounding his book, which is entitled A Journey, and set for release on September 1st.

Blood money?

It seems most users, or 'tyggers', are indignant that Blair’s decision may be little more than a publicity stunt and refuse to forgive him for the perceived injustices and illegal acts perpetrated during his time in office. That Blair stands accused of starting an illegal war and is now giving money to a soldiers’ charity is an irony that has not escaped our users. One complained that Blair ‘still hasn't apologized’ while another accused him of ‘trying to smarm his way back to popularity’. One spoke for many and wrote ‘the money he donates from his memoirs won't wash the blood off his hands’, while another hinted at an ulterior motive, asking ‘why not give money and keep it quiet?’, wondering, alongside many tyggers, why Blair didn’t keep his donation private.

Others maintain that while Blair may be genuinely trying to redeem himself with the gesture, the act is largely failing to redress his seemingly damaged legacy. One cynically wrote ‘An attempt at atonement...’, while another was certain it was ‘a bribe in any other words!’ One opined that ‘giving book earnings away does not make up for mistakes’ while another commented that ‘it looks like the guilt might be getting to him’. Indeed, another simply jeered ‘feeling guilty are we? History will still remember him as a liar’.

‘A cynical ploy’?

Indeed, some feel that Blair is just manipulating the public, which one called ‘a cynical ploy’ that ‘will help him sell more copies of his book’. One called the ‘donation of proceeds of sales of his new biography to the Royal British Legion amazingly cynical even for him’ while another was sure that the announcement was nothing more than a plan ‘to flog copies of his book because quick-off-the-mark Mandelson has cornered the market’ (referring to former Business Secretary Peter Mandelson’s recently released autobiography The Third Man).

Some tyggers have jumped on the increased media focus on the former PM to question his current finances and activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, where he works as an Envoy, political consultant and speech-giver. Comments like ‘[he] should NOT be allowed anywhere near the Middle East!’, ‘[he is] a total failure as Middle East Envoy!’, and a reference to ‘the excessive cost of [his] personal security’ suggest that Blair’s lack of popularity is not just linked with his beleaguered legacy but with his current career as well.

‘Very generous offer’

However, amid the wave of negative comments, some islands of positivity emerge. Some tyggers are simply grateful that Blair has decided to donate funds, with one saying ‘well done’ and another claiming ‘I don’t care what the critics or cynical people will say, this is a huge amount of money and I don’t ever remember anyone [else] donating this life-changing amount to charity’. Another simply called Blair’s decision ‘classy’. The £4m advance from the book will amount to one third of the Royal British Legion’s fundraising target, even before royalties start coming in. Chris Simpkins, director general of the charity, said the offer was "very generous" and that he was delighted to accept it.

Admittedly, some are still uneasy over the motives behind the donation but have nevertheless congratulated Blair. One called it ‘a nice touch’ but asked if ‘this is a guilty mind seeking solace’ and questioned again if Blair was ‘perhaps trying to buy peace of mind’. However, one calmly wrote ‘thank you anyway, Tony, for this kind act’. One even pointed out that while ‘everyone should buy this book’, buyers ‘don't have to read it.’ The same tygger suggested that ‘everybody should buy his book so that the [Royal] British Legion can set up the best rehabilitation centre ever’. 'Even if you ‘burn the book as a protest’, the writer continued, you will ‘at the same time be doing some good for the troops’.

But the drop of positive comments has failed to affect the ocean of overwhelmingly negative sentiment towards the book and the donation of its proceeds, and it seems that despite the undeniably helpful funds involved, the gesture will offer little in the way of a panacea to Blair’s still-dismal reputation among many on TellYouGov.

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Related commentary: John Humphrys - 'Blair’s largesse: Genuine gift or 'blood money'?'