Save The Children “sorry” for Blair award

Blair cropped

Taxi for Blair – decision to give award to former PM was savaged

Charity admits former PM should not have been given humanitarian honour

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3rd March 2015 by Graham Martin 2 Comments

A major international children’s charity has apologised for its decision to give a humanitarian award to Tony Blair.

Save the Children (STC) admitted the debacle had damaged its standing among supporters and staff – though there are still no plans to strip the honour from the former prime minister .

There was outrage – and open revolt with in the charity – last November when its US arm decided to award Blair a global legacy award.

Protestors cited his more widely recognised legacy of backing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

More than 100,000 people signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for the award to be rescinded and around 500 STC staff signed a protest letter.

I know that many of our supporters and volunteers were very upset and our staff too, and I'm very sorry for that - Justin Forsyth

During the controversy, questions were raised about Blair’s influence within the charity, as figures close to the former PM now hold influential positions within it.

UK chief executive Justin Forsyth was a special adviser to the former prime minister for three years and Jonathan Powell, Blair’s former chief of staff, is currently on the board.

However, it was Forsyth who this week finally apologised for the award – though he did not say Blair should be stripped of the award, a key demand of protestors.

He told Radio Four’s Today programme he was “very sorry” for the affair, calling it an “unnecessary distraction” from the charity’s work.

Forsyth said: “I know that many of our supporters and volunteers were very upset and our staff, and I'm very sorry for that.”

Despite the fact it was billed a “global legacy” award, Forsyth insisted it was only given for Blair’s work in Africa – not the Middle East.

He said: “Yes, it was a global legacy award. It was called that. But actually it was an award very, very specifically for Tony Blair's efforts on Africa at two G8 summits at Birmingham and Gleneagles, not his wider legacy.

“And if it had been for his wider legacy I think it would be wrong, but it was for something quite specific that helped Africa and children.

“I'm sorry it's upset so many people. It's not really what we do at Save the Children. What we're really doing is on the ground in Syria with the Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone – that's the work we do.”

Forsyth’s contrition comes after a similar apology by Brendan Cox, STC UK’s policy director.

Following a meeting with Miranda Pinch of 38 Degrees, he said:“We wanted to respond to you and your fellow signatories and to apologise for the upset that this award has caused.

“As you know, this was a decision made by Save the Children US and although we were made aware of the decision, and we passed on the invite to his office at their request, we weren’t part of the decision making process. In retrospect we should have foreseen the controversy this might generate.

“For a number of reasons this is not a decision Save the Children UK would have taken.

“This isn’t because Tony Blair doesn’t deserve recognition for the leadership he showed on Africa – he does – but because his other actions, particularly those on Iraq, which Save the Children opposed strongly at the time, overshadow how the public see him in the UK.

“In the US his public profile is very different and therefore it’s possible to disentangle his actions on Africa from his broader track record. In the UK this is more difficult.

“This award from them was never intended to be a broad endorsement of Tony Blair’s time in office but specific recognition for his role in the Birmingham and Gleneagles G8 summits and commitment to development and Africa. These summits played an important role in galvanising progress on child and maternal mortality, debt cancellation and HIV/ AIDs.

“Finally, we wanted to reassure you that work is ongoing within the global Save the Children movement to look at what lessons can be learnt as we want nothing to distract us from our work to make this world a better place for children and their families.

“Our first and only interest has always been to do what’s in the best interests of children and we hope to work together with many of you in the future on this critical cause – saving children’s lives and helping them fulfil their potential.”

3rd March 2015 by Mike Trevett

Whitewash

5th March 2015 by Alan Young

As I've said often enough elsewhere, it is the duty of a vibrant civil society to contribute ideas, beliefs and persepctives to the public sphere, and if people within civil society honestly believe something to be true, they should 'shout it from the rooftops' whether or not they feel other people might be upset or offended by it (see, for example, the current debate around JRF and its support of CAGE). If Save the Children (in the UK, the US or anywhere else) honestly believe that Tony Blair deserves recognition for 'the leadership he showed on Africa' - whatever they may think of his other actions - they should have the confidence to say so, and if there is to be any apology, it should be the assertive one that 'we know not everybody will like this, and that some people may be quite deeply hurt by our actions, but we have the overriding duty to contribute to a balanced assessment of Mr Blair's role in world affairs - NOT the submissive form of apology that this article suggests they made to the group '38 Degrees'.