It has become increasingly commonplace to see former senior politicians remain in public life and seek to continue to influence policy without a mandate from the public.
Often times this requires substantial funding and the creation of a legal entity. This is a path famously trodden by Tony Blair, who established the immodestly named Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, an entity which recorded just over $60 million (£49m) in costs in 2021. This level of cash burn requires funding from some very deep pockets and the institute has secured funding from some, ahem, unusual sources. These include the billionaire son-in-law of Ukraine’s former President Leonid Kuchma (that is another story) and, of course, Bill Gates via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
These arrangements raise an important question: can a senior politician’s decisions be influenced by thoughts about what he or she intends to do after leaving office?
This brings us to the case of Theresa May.
Following a tumultuous period in office, Theresa May resigned in May 2019 and her term as Prime Minister ended ignominiously on July 23rd 2019. Shortly thereafter she incorporated The Office of Theresa May Limited at the end of October 2019 and received her first keynote speaker’s fee of £100,000 from UBS, Switzerland in December 2019. By March 2021 the entity had accumulated over £1 million in cash.
In total, starting from the Register of Members Interests dated July 20th 2020, Theresa May has earned£2,771,039 in speaking fees and book fees alone, not including gifts and hospitality. Almost all of this money comes from the United States and the few payments that related to U.K. enterprises came mainly from global businesses such as J.P. Morgan and PwC who could only notionally be considered to be British.
The most unusual payment of £404,800 from came from Cambridge Speaker Series, California. This payment was highly unusual as this entity was in dissolution from June 2016 and was finally terminated a few months after the £404,000 payment to Theresa May in October 2022. It is odd for a seemingly dormant company to make such a large cash payment on the eve of its final removal from the corporate register. Furthermore, the company had no meaningful LinkedIn presence and a very limited internet presence.
The wider question, though, remains as to how a politician becomes a member of this highly lucrative speaker circuit in the USA and why people in America would pay millions to listen to a Prime Minister who has received notably low ratings in her own home country.
I suggest that access to this privileged speaker’s circuit is linked to a politician’s willingness to ‘do the right thing’ whilst in office.
Perhaps the only major achievement Theresa May had during her Prime Ministership was the bizarre decision to shift the U.K. from an already onerous target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% relative to a 1990 baseline to a virtually impossible target of achieving a 100% reduction. The timing of this was very unusual as Theresa May finally resigned in May 2019 and this monumental change was introduced via a statutory instrument in June 2019.