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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 17:21 GMT
Clare Short: Divided she stands
The prospect of British support for US military action in Iraq poses another dilemma for the International Development Secretary Clare Short. Chris Jones of the BBC's News Profiles Unit considers the Cabinet Minister noted for preferring principle to pragmatism.

She is an unlikely survivor of a government demanding adherence to the party line. For Clare Short's warning that she would resign her post if Tony Blair went too far in supporting an American attack on Saddam Hussein's forces is entirely in keeping with her political record.

She has quit the Labour front bench twice before, first in protest over support for the Prevention of Terrorism Act and later in disagreement with the party line on the Gulf War.

Clare Short in pensive mood
Considering her view
Her passionate beliefs developed early in her life. She was born and bred in Birmingham, the second of seven children of Irish parents. Her father, a teacher, came from Crossmaglen and she was once strident in her call for British troops to leave Northern Ireland.

With a degree in political science, Clare Short had no notion of entering Parliament until she worked as a private secretary to a Conservative Home Office minister, Mark Carlisle, and found many MPs decidedly "unimpressive" at their jobs.

She thought: "I could do that" and in 1983 became the member for Birmingham, Ladywood.

Sights on the Sun

An early target was The Sun's Page Three girl and similar newspaper photographs. The failure of her Bill to ban them was inevitable, as was the rowdy reception from some Conservative MPs, which led Ms Short to comment: "If you mention breasts, 50 Tory MPs all giggle and fall over".

Tony Blair makes his point
Has come to respect Clare Short
Her opinion of another tabloid, The News of the World, plummeted still further five years later, when she complained that it had spent weeks raking through her private life.

"It was unfair, vicious and vile," she said. "They dug out a picture of me at 20 in a nightie. This time I wasn't going to be a man-hating harridan, I was going to be a floozy". Her complaints were upheld.

Her career, meanwhile, continued on its bumpy path. As Labour geared up for its general election campaign in 1996, Short was shunted out of her transport job and demoted to overseas development and aid.

Long-lost son

After calling for the legalisation of cannabis and suggesting that perhaps people like herself could afford to pay more tax, she strained Tony Blair's patience too far when she refrained from backing his line in a TV interview about tube strikes.

A smiling Clare Short
Not so joyless
Less than three months later, though, Clare Short scored a PR triumph. Behind the public image of dour, humourless puritanism, friends knew a private woman who was prone to giggling and bouts of self-deprecation.

Suddenly, everyone was made aware of an elated, vulnerable Clare Short, as she introduced her secret son, Toby, to the public, 31 years after she had given him up for adoption.

Pregnant at 18, she had decided with her new husband that they could not look after the baby. Seven years later, the couple divorced, and Clare Short's second husband, the former Home Office minister, Alex Lyon, a victim of Alzheimer's disease, died in 1993.

Hit her stride

Living with her mother in Handsworth, Birmingham, Clare Short's relationship with her new-found son became a primary focus in her life, but has done nothing to soften her tone. Among her more outspoken comments, she said Bill Clinton wasn't "really fit to be a leader".

Gordon Brown punches the air
Gordon Brown: a powerful ally
But while several ministers have been found wanting, Clare Short has flourished as International Development Secretary.

It's a job in which her left-leaning loyalties can do relatively little harm to the prime minister, but where she has earned his respect, if not friendship, along with that of aid organisations, for her hard work and efficiency.

She has endorsed Tony Blair's stance on globalisation and the war in Afghanistan. But Iraq is another matter.

Candid Clare

So is Tanzania. In another snub to the PM, she has blocked a move to give financial aid to the starving African state so that it could buy an expensive British air traffic control system.

Seeking views in Pakistan
In Pakistan on the job she loves
"What is the point of it if you don't say what you think is true," she says.

Ms Short knows she has a powerful ally in the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, the man who is said to hunger for Tony Blair's job. Her departmental budget is one of the few where spending has increased.

Clare Short says her ambition is nothing more than "to do some good" but there is developing speculation that she would be a powerful candidate for the deputy leadership if John Prescott were to step down. Battle might then be joined in earnest between old and New Labour.


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