Short, Clare

Short, Clare
▪ 2004

      In a remarkable radio interview on March 10, 2003, shortly before the U.S.-led war against Iraq began, Clare Short, the U.K. secretary of state for international development, criticized the impending war and described British Prime Minister Tony Blair's stance on Iraq as “reckless.” It was widely assumed that her resignation or dismissal would follow swiftly. Instead, Blair asked her to stay on to oversee Britain's contribution to Iraq's postwar reconstruction. She agreed, on the condition that this would happen within the framework of the United Nations. On May 12, however, Short resigned. Her bitter resignation letter accused Blair of having “breached … the assurances you gave me about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government.… This makes my position impossible.” Short's resignation was the first in a series of events that provoked a continuing controversy over Blair's integrity and caused his opinion-poll ratings to plummet.

      Short was born in Birmingham, Eng., on Feb. 15, 1946. Her parents were both Irish-born Roman Catholics with strong Irish republican sympathies. After studying at the Universities of Keele and Leeds, she joined the Home Office as a career civil servant in 1970. She left five years later to enter politics. In 1983 she was elected as the Labour MP for Birmingham, Ladywood. She identified with the left wing of the Labour Party but remained an independent-minded MP, and her fiery passion helped her to stand out from the crowd. In 1985 Neil Kinnock, then leader of the Labour Party in opposition to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, appointed Short to his shadow ministerial team. Twice she resigned over Kinnock's refusal to oppose specific government policies (in 1988 over the renewal of antiterrorism legislation and in 1991 over Kinnock's support for the first Gulf War); twice she was eventually brought back into the shadow ministerial team.

      Upon Labour's return to power in 1997, Blair appointed Short secretary of state for international development. Her reputation grew throughout the world as an effective minister as she secured large increases in the British government's overseas-aid budget and introduced new policies to increase the effectiveness of that aid in helping the Third World. She was especially concerned with poverty in Africa and persuaded Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown to write off the debts to Britain of Africa's poorest countries. In 1999 she gave strong support to NATO's military action in Kosovo. Given her left-wing inclinations and previous resignations, her support was vital to Blair and helped to avoid a major split in the Labour Party over Britain's involvement in the NATO action. That support ended in 2003, however, and Short quickly became one of Blair's harshest critics, denouncing the government's policies and calling for the beleaguered prime minister's resignation.

Peter Kellner

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Universalium. 2010.

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