Less Freedom, More Money: Tony Blair’s Vaccine Passport

Sincere Tony is again on the stump, promoting his vision of how best to return to a lovely, unruffled world of capitalist endeavour, circuit lecturing and summit meetings that no longer need to be held online.  And when Blair has visions, they are bound to be highly selective and keen in terms of his own bank account, not to mention his PR services.

In February this year, he told BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster that a digital health certificate or passport of some sort covering vaccination and testing status was bound to happen.  It was a matter of “national security”.  Never mind the deaths and the illness, it was “the damage to our economy and the global economy” that proved “massive.”

This month, Blair went one step further.  In Less Risk, More Freedom, a report authored by his firm the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the authors remark that “vaccine status matters.”  They write of a “robust Covid pass” that could be used to facilitate virtually unhindered mobility. In terms of international movement, “we propose that anyone who is fully vaccinated should be free to travel to and from any country currently designated green without any quarantine or testing required.”  In terms of domestic settings, the authors proposed “that any venue or setting that wants to admit only those who have been vaccinated be permitted to do so”.

The report, and the spruiking of the vaccination pass, exude a striking creepiness.  The gist to all of this: It was time to start discriminating between vaccinated and the unvaccinated.  On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Blair insisted that discrimination was unavoidable.  So far, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his cabinet seem cold to the idea.

Some of the government’s advisers are also sceptical.  Professor of social psychology John Drury, who is also a member of the Independent Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) also takes issue with “creating a division between those who have the passport and those who do not”, a state of affairs that was bound to “reinforce and reproduce existing group inequalities”.  Drury also noted other factors that would militate against the use of such a pass: the large number of people yet to be vaccinated, including “those unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons, those not on the priority list, those who haven’t found the opportunity, those who are hesitant, and those who are anti-vaxx.”  Sod them, Tony seems to be suggesting.

Another member of the SPI-B, Susan Michie, also suggests keeping such passes on ice.  “The idea of vaccine passports when not everyone has been offered the vaccination and when there are disparities that have not been adequately addressed is very problematic.”  An increase in “social divisions between different sectors of society” was bound to arise.

It is little wonder Blair wants to get moving, meeting and greeting.  In 2014, for instance, it was revealed that he earnt £41,000 per month from the Saudi oil company PetroSaudi, in addition to a 2% commission on any deal secured through his services. In 2016, the Guardian obtained access to documents on how various Chinese political leaders heaped praise upon Blair for his efforts to forge business deals with them and PetroSaudi.

In doing so, the line between making contacts, and actually overseeing deals, was blurred. The bank, co-owned by Prince Turki bin Abdullah – had itself insisted in discussions about retaining Blair’s services in November 2010 that the former British Prime Minister do more than “just make the intros” – he would also “help deliver transactions”.  Because doing so might fall foul of the Financial Services Authority, Tony Blair Associates would “assist in delivering transactions but cannot have it on paper that this might be the case (which no doubt still causes potential problems with the FSA).”

For the time of its operation, the TBA client roster was extensive, spanning Kuwait, Vietnam, Peru, Colombia, the Abu Dhabi investment fund Mubadala, and the authoritarian government of Kazakhstan.  All of this suggests a curious take on the mumbo jumbo that is often spouted in Whitehall about a “rules-based order”, which, as ever, affords rules in accordance with how money and services change hands in the opaquest way possible.

In 2016, the cloak of controversy regarding TBA and its advisory services was getting so heavy, Blair decided to cut and run.  In closing the advisory firm, he told staff that he would keep a number of private clients, including the investment bank JPMorgan.  But there would be a renewed focus on charity work.  “It is now time to expand to a new level,” Blair said in a statement.  “I want to expand our activities and bring everything under one roof.  I also want to concentrate the vast bulk of my time on the not-for-profit work we do.”

In responding to COVID-19 Blair, through his Institute for Global Change, evangelises with characteristic zeal.  “As the world works to defeat COVID-19, we have dedicated our 200-strong team to the fight.”  The firm’s “Government Advisory Practice is directly supporting leaders in their on-the-ground fight against COVID-19, and our Policy Futures unit is delivering analysis and advice to help countries mitigate economic impact, source essential equipment, harness the power of technology and position themselves for the rebuilding to come.”  The sound of money in the making.

For any readers in doubt about the value of Blair’s advice on matters of pressing concern, a dip into the Chilcot Report should suffice.  Covering the reasons why Britain invaded Iraq, along with the United States and its allies, it found that the prime minister reached a decision based on “flawed intelligence and assessments”.  Saddam Hussein and his fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction “posed no imminent threat”.  This would be a decent summary on Blair’s attitudes to a vaccine passport: views uninformed by advice and marked by a certain flawed intelligence.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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