Tony Blair’s memoirs

I have no great interest in politicians as individuals and am unlikely to buy any ex-PM’s memoirs, but in the case of Tony Blair’s effort (all over the newspapers today) I’ve come over all ‘literary critic’ because the extracts are a bit of a worry :

Despite their personal relationship, Blair admits that from the moment he was told of her [Princess Diana’s] death, he was “trying to work out how it should play”.

“I know that sounds callous,” he reveals. “I was genuinely in grief … but I also knew that this was going to be a major national, in fact global, event like no other … I had to work out how it would work out.”

‘I had to work out how it would work out’?  A firmer hand needed by the editor, I think: that’s a really clumsy sentence and sounds like it was written by somebody with a limited vocabulary (which obviously isn’t the case).  ‘I had to work out how it would unfold’ would have been better, or ‘I had to work out what might happen’.  Give me the manuscript and a red pen and let me get to work, Mr Blair.

Literary criticism aside; good on him for giving all of his royalties and profits to the Royal British Legion.  And to anybody who digs for an ulterior motive or sees the gesture a the sign of a guilty conscience at work (which certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, given that Tony Blair still thinks he did the right thing with regard to deploying British troops), I say the two things that I invariably say in the face of cynicism about the philanthropy of others:

Firstly:  Motives don’t matter when it comes to making a charitable donation.  If a celebrity donates money to a cause in order to get column inches or a company sponsors a charity to get positive PR, the result is the same – people get helped.  And people who need the help of charities couldn’t give a toss about the reasons why the philanthropic gesture was made.  People use this fear of how motives might be analysed as an excuse to do nothing.  In the UK I think that the horrible, cynical media has a big part to play in this – they love nothing more than to cover a silver lining with the grey clouds of their waspish criticism.

Secondly:  Nobody has a right to judge the philanthropic gestures of others.  In particular, I have noted a bit of correlation between cynical attitudes about philanthropy and cynical attitudes about charities in general: often, the people who bleat about the Beckhams giving money to a children’s charity because it will get them on the front of Hello magazine are the same people who will complain because the Chief Executives of large charities earn suitably large charities, as befits their role as the head of a large and complex organisation.  And in many cases I suspect that the cynics do nothing philanthropic themselves, and they make themselves feel better about their own miserable natures by criticising everybody else.  I appreciate that I’ve made a bit of a sweeping statement there, but (without naming names) I have personal knowledge of people who would fall into this ‘be critical and cynical about everything’ category.

Let’s face it, everybody could do more to help the less fortunate people in society.  Take me as an example: I donate money to charities on a monthly basis through my firm’s payroll giving scheme; I sponsor friends and colleagues when they take on fundraising activities for good causes; I’m a trustee of two charities; I’m heavily involved in the local operations of another charity; I’m a governor at a primary school; and I send my professional life encouraging other people to support good causes with their time, skills and money.  In many people’s eyes this might seem like a pretty decent effort. 

However, let’s not forget the following:  I get paid a decent salary for the work that I do; the volunteering I have taken on does not cause me any great inconvenience beyond giving up a few evenings every month for meetings;  the money that we donate to charities each money is a fraction of what we save into my pension and our ISAs (and a fairly small fraction, at that); and we don’t do anything more hands-on, like actually spend our weekends helping people.  I’m not down-playing what I do already – I know that it’s fairly respectable – but it shouldn’t give me the right to criticise what anybody else is doing or not doing. 

I know that I have made fun of celebrities for this very reason in the past, like when I read that the model Laura Bailey (who often mentions her charitable endeavours) spends £1,000 each time she gets a hair cut.  That’s a flipping expensive hair cut and she could do a lot with that kind of money, but again: I really have no right to judge her.  People could judge me just as harshly because I spent a lot of money on a posh handbag earlier this year and that money could have sponsored several children for the year, instead.  And now I feel quite bad about buying that handbag, thinking of it in those terms.  And also quite bad about judging Laura Bailey: after all, I don’t know how that compares to the amounts she might donate to charities every year, and in any event it’s none of my business.  And now I wish that I hadn’t written anything to out myself as occasionally cynical about the philanthropic gestures of others, but I’m going to resist the urge to delete the previous few sentences in the interests of demonstrating my point.  And as a lasting reminder to myself to not be such a dick in the future (in judging others, not in outing myself in this manner).

If anybody chooses to do something to help the wider world – by donating money, volunteering, working for a charity or whatever – we should collectively celebrate it.  We shouldn’t grumble about whether or not they’ve given enough money or why they might have done it.  That attitude is hardly likely to encourage more philanthropy, is it?

8 Responses to Tony Blair’s memoirs

  1. Frugal Trenches says:

    Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant post! Hear Hear! When I started doing overseas work, I was sadly inundated with negative comments & emails. People with children who would say “focus on the living not the dying” – yet if their child was dying they wouldn’t hold that view, but I think because they knew they wouldn’t do something like that, they had to justify why it isn’t good. It was upsetting to see that people really are like that. I know people who get angry when people adopt from overseas and say “look @ your own backyard” and while there is need all over, having walked & worked the halls of orphanages AND been a foster parent “in my own backyard” I can tell you firmly that there, there is nothing for the kids, here we have programs and services and while we still need adopters for kids domestically of course, to me, a child is a child is a child. Oddly enough those with the strongest opinions who put down others good choices to help, never do it themselves. Once I said “oh that’s great, how many kids in your own backyard have you adopted” and they said “well none, but if I was going to, which I never will, then I’d do that”….

    Philanthropy is a gift, slowly it changes you, as you see the ability to give to others, to help children get adopted by donating money, to hold the hand of the dying, to visit with the homeless at 3 am, to contribute towards a women’s shelter – you receive something life changing in return. I wish everyone received teh beautiful gift of that open door!

    Great post!!!

    • exilednzer says:

      FT, I am flabbergasted at your ability to remain patient and graceful in the face of those kind of comments: if anybody had the gall to criticise my own volunteering ot my face I suspect that I would be fairly frank in response!

      And I totally agree with you regarding overseas adoption. If we end up going down the adoption route (which could be an option for us, although there are a few complicating factors) I would definitely want to look to adopt from overseas.

  2. Frugal Trenches says:

    p.s. I want to read Tony’s book. I may have a slight crush on the man…or maybe a BIG one!

    • exilednzer says:

      Hahaha! Well, we all have our own personal ‘silver fox’ fixations, and you could do a great deal worse! I will admit that I read all of the extracts of his book in last night’s Evening Standard and some of it sounds quite hilarious.

  3. Frugal Trenches says:

    p.p.s. don’t hate me!

  4. raker says:

    I wouldn’t get too hung up on the purchase of your posh handbag – remember you’re supporting craftsmen & their families in Shepton Mallet. Obviously they don’t see as much of the final price/markup, but buying above board and not knock-off is keeping blokes in jobs!

    • exilednzer says:

      That is excellent logic and I thank you for it!

      • raker says:

        No problem – I’m not enabling you to bling bling your lifestyle, of course 😉 I can just see you swigging Cristal on the way into work though. A nice bottle of Cristal carried with your tupperware lunchbox – heh!

        It’s just that I’ve just been thinking a lot more about conscientious spending if you know what I mean. People all over the world are all trying to make a living, getting ripped off, living on the poverty line, making loads of money – every possible combination of things is happening, and you can’t be responsible/fix all of it.

        However, buying fewer items (like in your austerity project), but thinking about where they come can help make sense of things, and choosing carefully where to spend YOUR money is important – whether it’s charitable donations, or only buying in charity shops/fairtrade, or only buying “designer” in Selfridges, or buying 20 million shitty identical T shirts in Primark – if you’ve thought about it and aren’t doing it on autopilot like most of the population of the UK it seems, then I think that’s a good thing.

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