Clare Short

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Clare Short

The Right Honourable Clare Short (born February 15, 1946) is a British Labour Party politician. She is Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood and was Secretary of State for International Development from May 2, 1997 until her resignation on May 12, 2003.



Clare Short was born to Irish parents in Birmingham in 1946. Short was briefly married to a fellow student after she became pregnant at 18. Their son was given up for adoption, and did not make contact with his birth mother until 1996. She discovered that her son was a staunch Tory who worked in the financial sector in the City of London, and that she was a grandmother. Her second marriage, to former Labour minister Alex Lyon, turned to tragedy: he suffered from Alzheimer's disease and died in 1993.

Early career

With a degree in political science from Keele University, she became a civil servant in the Home Office. Working as Private Secretary to the Conservative minister Mark Carlisle gave her the idea that she "could do better" than many of the MPs she dealt with, and in the 1983 UK general election she became MP for Ladywood, the area where she grew up.

From the start of her career she was on the left wing of the party. In 1986 she gained attention for campaigning against "Page Three" photographs of topless models in The Sun and other British tabloid newspapers. She supported Tony Benn in the Labour leadership election in 1988. She also called for the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland.

She rose through the ranks of the Labour Front Bench, despite twice resigning from it - over the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1988, and over the Gulf War in 1990. She became shadow Minister for Women, and then shadow Transport Secretary, but in 1996 was moved to the Overseas Development portfolio, a move that was widely seen as a demotion, perhaps as a punishment for her outspokenness. She has been a controversial figure throughout her career, most notably when she called for the legalisation of cannabis.


After the 1997 UK general election the Overseas Development Administration was given full departmental status as the Department for International Development, with Short as the first cabinet-level Secretary of State for International Development. She retained this post throughout the first term of the Labour government, and beyond the 2001 UK general election into the second.

Resignation over Iraq war

On March 9, 2003 Ms Short called Tony Blair "reckless" and threatened to resign from the Cabinet in the event of the British government going to war with Iraq without a clear mandate from the United Nations. This looked set to be a reprise of her previous resignation as party spokesperson during the Gulf War of 1991 as a protest against the Labour Party's stance. However, on March 18 she announced that she would remain in the Cabinet and support the government's resolution in the House of Commons.

Short remained in the Cabinet for less than two months after her decision to back the 2003 Iraq War. She resigned on May 12, saying that Blair had broken promises to her about the involvement of the UN in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq, and that Blair and Jack Straw had negotiated a UN Security Council resolution that "contradicts the assurances I have given in the House of Commons and elsewhere about the legal authority of the occupying powers, and the need for a UN-led process to establish a legitimate Iraqi government". 10 Downing Street denied the allegations. In her resignation statement to the House she accused Blair of being "obsessed with his place in history".

Bugging of the UN

On February 26, 2004 Short alleged on the BBC Today radio programme that British spies regularly intercept UN communications, including those of Kofi Annan, its Secretary-General. The revelation came the day after the unexplained dropping of whistleblowing charges against former GCHQ translator Katharine Gun. Reacting to Short's statement, Tony Blair said "I really do regard what Clare Short has said this morning as totally irresponsible, and entirely consistent [with Short's character]." Blair also claimed that Short had put UK security, particularly the security of its spies at risk. The same day, on the BBC's Newsnight programme, Short called Blair's response "pompous" and said that Britain had no need to spy on Kofi Annan. Blair did not explicitly deny the claims but Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary, wrote that in his experience he would be surprised if the claims were true.

A few days later (on February 29, 2004) Ms Short appeared on ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme. She revealed that she had been written to by Britain's senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Andrew Turnbull. Turnbull's confidential letter (which Short showed to Dimbleby, and which was quoted on the programme) formally admonished her for discussing intelligence matters in the media, and threatened "further action" if she did not desist from giving interviews on the issue. Turnbull wrote that she had made claims "which damage the interests of the United Kingdom", and that he was "extremely disappointed". The "further action" referred to in the letter has been interpreted as threatening either the removal of Short's status as a Privy Counsellor or to legal action under the Official Secrets Act. Either course of action would be without recent precedent; the last time a Privy Counsellor's status was revoked was in 1921 when Sir Edgar Speyer was removed from the list of who was accused of collaborating with the Germans during the First World War [1] ( However, on March 1 2004, Tony Blair's official spokesman refused to rule out such a step.


Her book An Honourable Deception?: New Labour, Iraq, and the Misuse of Power was released on November 1, 2004. It is an account of her career in New Labour, most notably her relationship with Tony Blair, the relationship between Blair and Gordon Brown and the build up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In December, 2004, Ms Short was reportedly critical of U.S. efforts to dispense aid to countries devastated by a tsunami caused by a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean. She is quoted as stating that the formation of a group of countries led by the United States for this purpose was a challenge to the role of the United Nations, which she believed was uniquely qualified for the task.


  • Short, Clare (2004). An Honourable Deception? New Labour, Iraq, and the Misuse of Power Free Press, ISBN 0743263928
  • Short, Clare (speech, 2001) Making Globalisation Work for the Poor: A Role for the United Nations Department for International Development, ISBN 186192335X
  • Short, Clare (1999) Debt Relief for Poverty Reduction Department for International Development, ISBN 1861921004
  • edited by Short, Clare, K. Tunks, D. Hutchinson (1991) Dear Clare...This Is What Women Feel About Page 3 Radius, ISBN 0091749158

External links

Preceded by:
Secretary of State for International Development
Followed by:
The Baroness Amos
eo:Clare SHORT

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