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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Short shrift for reticence
Clare Short
Ms Short is not shy of expressing her opinion
International Development Secretary Clare Short has never shrunk from expressing her opinions.

That fact has given her a special status with a British public, who value the contrast with politicians who appear to put career over conscience, the pursuit of power over principle.

In speaking up for those innocent people in Afghanistan who are themselves victims of Taleban oppression, Ms Short has forced the government to publicly confront the possible fallout of any planned military action.

"All serious people do not want a lot of innocent people to be bombed and lose their lives

Clare Short
Labour leaders say they endorse her remarks, but she will not have pleased Prime Minister Tony Blair who had been focusing on solidarity with US in taking whatever action was necessary in the war with those who planned, perpetrated or were in any way involved in the attacks.

"It would be unbearable if the response was a lot more innocent people losing their lives and inflaming the atmosphere," Ms Short said in an interview with the BBC.

"All serious people do not want a lot of innocent people to be bombed and lose their lives.

"Everyone who's got any influence ought to use their influence to try to achieve that outcome."

Catholic church target

All this is reminiscent of the time she resigned from Neil Kinnock's opposition front bench because she objected to Labour's stance on the Gulf War.

In the past she has criticised, "New" Labour, the Catholic church, the United Nations, the European Union - even the Millennium Dome.

And much as it must annoy the Labour Party's control-freak tendency, the international development secretary never shrinks from expressing her notoriously forthright views.

Irritate Millbank it may - but the public seem to respect Ms Short's honesty and she is still firmly identified with the traditional wing of her party.

The Catholic Church opposes contraception but most Catholics in the world use it

Clare Short
Once, in a speech to political journalists at the House of Commons, she said: "This is a substantially good and effective government - the bit that is going wrong is the 'New' bit."

When she is not having a go at her own party, Ms Short sets her sights on many other targets.

She has repeatedly clashed with the Catholic Church, most recently over its stance on condoms.

In July last year she said: "The Catholic Church opposes contraception but most Catholics in the world use it.

"The Catholic Church is stuck and wrong on these questions but lots of Catholics ignore the Church's teaching, including good priests and nuns who are in favour of condoms being made available.

"That is just another burden in dealing with this thing better."

Wrath of Downing Street

Her comments drew the wrath of many in the Catholic establishment and Downing Street moved quickly to distance itself from Ms Short.

Monserrat's volcano
Controversy over Monserrat
Perhaps her most notorious gaffe, however, was reserved for the residents of Monserrat - the British overseas territory in the Caribbean.

She managed to upset every resident of the volcano-ravaged island when she accused them of making unreasonable demands.

"They will be wanting golden elephants next," she famously, if less than diplomatically, exclaimed.

The list goes on: she said Mr Blair's friend Bill Clinton wasn't fit to be president - and admitted on live TV that she "didn't bother" lobbying on behalf of British business during an official visit to China.

Secret son

There have been plenty of other surprises since she was elected an MP in 1983 for Ladywood in Birmingham but none more so when she revealed she had a fully grown son - a fact that had previously escaped everybody's attention.

It was already known that she had been briefly married as a teenager, then had married for a second time, amid some scandal, to the MP Alex Lyon. Mr Lyon had left his wife and children to set up home with her.

By the late 1980s, Mr Lyon had developed Alzheimer's disease, and was nursed by Ms Short in their South London home for five years before she placed him in the care home where he died.

But it was not widely known that the Ladywood MP had given a baby up for adoption in the mid-1960s.

Just over 31 years after the event, her son decided to trace his birth mother - Ms Short having notified the adoption agency that she wanted to be contacted if ever her child desired it.

In a burlesque twist, Toby Graham, staunch Tory and city slicker found himself with Clare Short as a mother.

And in classic style she unveiled him before the media. The images of them hugging are some of the most heart-warming of recent political history.

Not only did she find a son but she then learnt that she was a grandmother.

'Justice for all' theme

But Ms Short is a long way off settling down and having a quiet life because she loves her job.

She once told the Radio Times: "I actually think it's the best job in government and the most important.

"The whole issue of international solidarity and justice for everybody in the world has always been a core theme of my politics and of my life.

"Now it's time to mobilise the political will to implement what the world has already agreed upon - the reduction of absolute poverty by half by 2015. It's a moral and environmental imperative."

And while she's not putting the whole world to rights, she is in Birmingham - the city she describes as the "centre of the universe" - devoting time to her constituents.

See also:

22 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Dome a flop - Short
19 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Clare does it again
11 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Short criticises Vatican over Aids fight
20 Oct 99 | UK Politics
Short attacks anti-abortion campaigners
01 Jul 99 | UK Politics
Vatican gets Short shrift
26 Jun 98 | Americas
Montserrat marks volcano anniversary
30 Oct 99 | UK Politics
Short shrift for Livingstone
07 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Short attacks 'heartlands' focus
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