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Clare Short, thorn in Tony Blair's side

Former British cabinet minister Clare Short, who dropped a bombshell when she claimed Britain spied on Kofi Annan, is a fiercely independent leftwinger who has become a thorn in Tony Blair's side.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2004 14:00 IST

Former British cabinet minister Clare Short, who dropped a bombshell when she claimed Britain spied on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, is a fiercely independent leftwinger who has become a thorn in Prime Minister Tony Blair's side.

With her deep, almost raucous voice and fiery temper, the 58-year-old politician has earned a maverick reputation, saying out loud what many in the British political establishment think but dare not say.

Born and bred in Birmingham, she was the second of seven children of Irish parents. Her father, a teacher, hailed from the staunchly Republican bastion of Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland.

After earning a political science degree, she decided to enter politics while working as a secretary at the Home Office. She was elected MP in 1983.

A straight talker, she pushed her feminist cause for many years while in the opposition and made a lot of enemies in the tabloid press, particularly The Sun when she campaigned for a ban on the daily's popular Page Three girl showing scantily clad women.

She twice resigned from the Labour "shadow cabinet" over matters of principle and was even sanctioned for having called for a debate on the legalization of cannabis.

She shocked Westminster by publicly disclosing the existence of her secret son, Toby, 31 years after she had given him up for adoption.

A favorite of non-governmental organizations, she was named international development secretary by Blair when Labor came to power in 1997.

Her close ties with Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, Blair's main rival within the Labour Party, enabled her to secure for her ministry a budget four times bigger than that of the Foreign Office.

She campaigned for cutting Third World debt and ending British arms sales to politically unstable countries.

After she resigned last May, the Independent daily wrote: "In office, Ms Short was a thoroughly good thing. During her six years in the job, she managed to make the Department for International Development a model for other rich countries."

"Although still a left-winger in most ways, she risked the ire of ideological fellow-travellers by zealously advocating trade liberalisation as the best way of combating poverty. However, as a resigner, she has established a standard for cack-handedness that others will struggle to match," it added.

Along with former foreign secretary Robin Cook, she became a prominent critic within the Labour Party of the Iraq war, even calling on Blair to resign.

"Tony said to me, 'The French have said they will veto anything', so I was misled about the French position (on Iraq). We were all misled. Objectively, if things are not true, they are a lie," she told the Independent last July.

She felt that Iraq was never an "immediate threat" to the West and suggested that Blair had perhaps deceived public opinion for a good cause, since no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq.

However some have criticized her for not resigning before the start of the Iraq war last March, unlike Cook who quit his cabinet post of leader of the House of Commons, responsible for steering legislation through parliament. Cook was foreign secretary until 2001.

Her answer was that she had received assurances that the United Nations would play a major role in Iraq. Feeling betrayed, she has been stepping up attacks despite alleged threats from Blair's close aides.

Last month, she set off a furor when she claimed in a BBC interview that Britain had bugged Annan's conversations and that she had seen the transcripts.

Blair reacted angrily to Short's sensational claim, calling it "deeply irresponsible" and insisting that British intelligence always acted within the law.

"Clare Short is totally finished as far as we are concerned", an aide of Brown recently told the Guardian daily.

First Published: Mar 08, 2004 14:00 IST