Later this year, most likely in May, Gordon Brown faces the prospect of handing in his P45 and beginning the search for a new job. He, along with the reams of other politicians who have found themselves unemployed over-night, will have a number of options open to him. He could take up the quiet life in the countryside; maybe make the odd after-dinner appearance. Perhaps he’ll choose to take a seat in the House of Lords or do some work in international diplomacy. Or maybe he’ll decide that the offers that will inevitably come to him from large businesses to take up an advisory role for lots of money will be the most tempting. Is this route as it seems, innocent and for the purposes of income after the politics game has wound up? Or are there more sinister reasons for someone who once held power to take up an offer from a large organisation? Until very recently it has been the standard practice for a politician to remain in politics for their entire career.
Politics was for life, not just for as long as you were popular. Winston Churchill was a politician until 1964 and then only managed to live three months after retirement. The story is similar for many of Britain’s leaders, Gladstone, Atlee and Heath.
The situation has always been a little different on the other side of the Atlantic but similarly politicians aren’t in the game for life anymore and have started dedicating their time to activities outside of public service.
Many of the powerful people of yesteryear have been content to fill their time on the after-dinner speaking circuit and have made plenty of money in the process. Both Ken Livingstone, former mayor of London, and Boris Johnson, current major of London, ask for £10,000 a time for their insights into politics. Some demand even more, John Major still earns £30,000 a time and Tony Blair was paid £250,000 for a ninety-minute lecture at Yale. The most in demand speaker has to be Bill Clinton, who will place a bill for £300,000 on your desk after he has spoken. It is reported that since 2001 he has managed to make £20 million from it. Despite the vast quantities of money falling into the pockets of these great orators, some have still continued with their first love and stayed in politics.
For most I am sure the decision to stay in public service is a noble one. Both
Winston Churchill and Ted Heath both famously refused the title of Lord so that they may continue to serve as MPs for their constituencies. A few months ago Bill Clinton demonstrated his continuing passion for international diplomacy by flying to North Korea and releasing a couple of imprisoned American journalists and only last month he appeared alongside George W. Bush as part of Barack Obama’s special aid mission to Haiti. Tony Blair is another character who chose to stay, for some part, in politics. When he stood down in 2007 he was offered some very lucrative positions such as Special Envoy to the Middle East on behalf of the quartet (USA, the UN, the EU, and Russia) a job many believed to be hypocritical because of the military action he instigated in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blair spends around one week of every month in Israel but has been criticised, especially from Palestinian supporters, as being ineffective and, according to some, pandering to the demands of the USA and Israel. It was, after all, George Bush Jr., a strong supporter of Israel and Zionism, who appointed Blair to the position in the first place. He has done some things for the Palestinians, however, such as reducing the number of road blockades from 630 to 590 in the West Bank as well as freezing the development of further Israeli settlements. For all his efforts, last year Blair received the ‘laureate for the present time dimension in the field of leadership’ from Tel Aviv University, a prize worth $1million, which for many in Palestine was a little too much to stomach. More recently he was touted as the favourite to become the first permanent president of the EU, a role which he lost to Herman Van Rompuy at the last minute. His desire to remain in politics, however, is by no means his most worrying ambition. For many former politicians, including Blair, big business, and therefore big money, is the most popular route to follow. Blair himself wound up working at JP Morgan for which he receives the tidy sum of £500,000 a year. He then took a job advising Zurich Financial Services on environmental issues. For all the work he completes in a year he reportedly earns £7 million. Again this has brought Blair more than his fair share of controversy but rest assured he is by no means occupying the most questionable role in business when compared with some other high profile former politicians.
In 2003 George Bush Jr. took his country to war in Iraq. When the invasion was complete the American government began handing out contracts for a number of different operations such as building and staffing military bases and oil drilling infrastructure. These contracts allowed some companies to make millions of dollars and one such company was the Carlyle group. The Carlyle group is a private equity firm based on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. This may seem innocuous enough to many, so maybe consider that over their 24-year history they have seen a 7% increase in profits when the USA invades another country due to their investment in weapons and military goods manufacture. This again could be seen as harmless and just the nature of business, but now consider the unusual recruitment pool of the Carlyle group. The President’s father and former president himself, George Bush Sr., was a senior advisor to the board of the Carlyle group at the time of the invasion, at this point things begin to look a little more suspect. In fact, just a brief glance down the list of the former employees of this company reveals a whole host of familiar names from one time U.S. secretaries of state to former White House advisors as well as our former Prime Minister John Major. Even George Bush Jr. spent some time on the board before he became president in 2000. The investors also have friends in high places. Frank Carlucci, for example, who owns a $180m stake in Carlyle, was not only Reagan’s defence secretary but also Princeton wrestling buddy of the defence secretary at the time of the invasion of Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld.
It would be very easy to criticise a group of politicians for earning large sums of money from public speaking or from failing to achieve something significant in a political role once they had left power.
To those reading this, though, it may be worrying to see the names of so many who once held positions of vast responsibility, linked with a single private company. It is also impossible to ignore the fact that this company is making large profits from the actions of a government with whom many within are connected, some as closely as father and son. It should be noted that this isn’t necessarily a conspiracy theory, I am merely stating the facts. It does, however, raise some important questions about the relationship between corporations and the future career paths of our current leaders.