Listening to Tony Blair, as prime minister, making a speech was often a moving experience. His labour conference address of 2001, days after the 9/11 attacks; the short and staccato signing off in the Commons as he left office. Yes, he had a team of speechwriters but Blair's delivery and pace were brilliant.
So it's little surprise that, since leaving office two and a half years ago, one of his major income streams has been from gigantic fees from his agents, the Washington Speakers Bureau, for speaking engagements. We've had details of the cost - sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds - but the content has rarely been revealed. It could only be imagined that, for the price, Blair has peppered every speech with never heard before anecdotes and witty jokes to please his audience.
As the Independent on Sunday revealed yesterday, Blair gave a speech at the opening of a methanol factory in Azerbaijan. The fee was paid by the WSB, but presumably it originated with AzMeCo, the firm owned by an Azeri oligarch whose plant Blair was at. It took me several emails to draw out few facts from Blair's office, but in the end I came across the full speech - £90k for 20 minutes - myself on the company's website - read it for yourself at azmeco.com and look up press releases.
When I read it, I couldn't quite believe my eyes. It is a truly awful speech, laden with sycophancy towards his millionaire hosts, repetition and one name check - the thinnest of anecdotes about Al Gore. If I were Nizami Piriyev, the oligarch owner of the factory, I would ask for my money back. But, of course, it is Blair's gold plated endorsement of the factory they are paying for, not the great oratory.
Blair praised AzMeCo as leading the way, on the eve of Copenhagen, in clean energy. Yet Greenpeace has ruled it to have zero environmental benefits: the methanol is produced using natural gas, a fossil fuel, and the European reconstruction bank which has donated £100m to the project has raised environmental hazard concerns over the site.
Tony Blair's involvement in this is as grubby as the carbon footprint of the AzMeCo plant.
Blair, it seems, is now available to the highest bidder for the kind of low-grade endorsement a c-list celebrity would give to a supermarket opening. The more money he makes, the cheaper his name appears to become. I know of a number of Blairites who now regard two Tony Blairs: the great labour leader and prime minister, before leaving office, and the one who touts himself around the world to the rich and the powerful, no matter how dubious their product or reputation. (It should be said Blair also held talks with the President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, whose election was ruled undemocratic and who banned the BBC from broadcasting in his country).
These Blairites wince at his adventures, preferring to concentrate on the Early and Mid Blair. Perhaps, after all, it would have been better if Blair had won the EU presidency, so he would no longer feel the need to cheapen himself in his desire for more money.