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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 May, 2003, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Short calls for Blair to step aside
Clare Short
Short: Wants a new leader

Tony Blair should step down before the next election, Clare Short has said after her resignation from his cabinet.

Freed of restraints of office, the former international development secretary beefed up her assault on the prime minister's style of leadership.

In an interview with the Guardian and Financial Times on Tuesday, she said Mr Blair had achieved an "enormous" amount, adding that it would be "very sad if he hung on and spoiled his reputation".

She urged him to start preparing an "elegant succession", apparently for Chancellor Gordon Brown.

The job is to try and ensure we keep up the quality of the government and organise an elegant succession
Clare Short

"The job is, without falling out into horrendous splits, to try and ensure we keep up the quality of the government and, indeed, organise an elegant succession," she told the newspapers.

Ms Short resigned on Monday morning, accusing Mr Blair of breaking promises over Iraq's future. She has been replaced by Foreign Office minister Baroness Amos.

Downing Street also announced on Tuesday that home office minister Hilary Benn is to become a minister of state for international development.

Mr Benn will become the main spokesman on international development in the Commons.

The post is being added to the department to reflect "the higher profile, and greater importance the government places on international development", Downing Street said.

It also follows criticism that the appointment of Baroness Amos means the top minister in the international development department does not sit in the Commons.

Ms Short on Monday used her resignation statement to launch a scathing broadside against the "presidential" style of the New Labour government.

And she later revealed that Chancellor Gordon Brown had tried to persuade her to stay on in government.

Ms Short told MPs trust was being undermined and party loyalty strained by the kind of errors seen over Iraq.

"There is no real collective responsibility because there is no collective - just diktats in favour of increasingly badly thought through policy initiatives that come from on high," she continued.

Unfair

John Reid, the Leader of the House of Commons, mounted a stout defence of Tony Blair on the airwaves on Tuesday.

Dr Reid told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I regret the fact that Clare decided to go.

"Even more so, I regret the manner in which she went and the degree of tension and animosity... I do not think that does anybody any good.

Baroness Amos
Baroness Amos is the first black woman to be in the UK cabinet

"Most of all, I think that most of what she said is unfair."

Dr Reid dismissed the suggestion that the prime minister was dictatorial, arguing that a few weeks ago he was accused of weakness for not sacking Ms Short after her criticisms.

Ms Short's criticisms are shared by some Labour MPs.

Falkirk West MP Michael Connarty said her speech had provided a "very thorough analysis of what's been the rot at the heart of the Labour government".

He told Today the issue was not about changing leaders but of listening to criticisms from former ministers.

"If Mr Blair really wants to stay and lead the party, he has to renew himself," added Mr Connarty.

'Damaged reputation'

By contrast, Louise Ellman was among backbenchers who argued Ms Short had some valid concerns but had "gone too far" in attacking Mr Blair personally.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Now she will just be another back-bencher, whining in the wasteland
Ed, UK

Other MPs believe Ms Short damaged her reputation by not resigning before the war on Iraq began.

Former Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle said she had "lost credibility" by the timing of her departure.

Ms Short said the reason she had resigned now was because the draft new UN resolution now being discussed at the Security Council did not give the UN its promised central role in rebuilding Iraq.

She called the UK's position "totally dishonourable".

"I cannot defend it. It is wrong in international law and for the rebuilding of Iraq and it breaches the promises that the prime minister gave to me," she told BBC News.

Legal advice

She accused Mr Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of acting illegally over post-conflict Iraq and suggested they had gone against the advice of Attorney General Lord Goldsmith.

On Monday night Lord Goldsmith issued a statement saying he was satisfied that the government was acting in accordance with international law.

But the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats called for the advice he gave to the prime minister over the legality of war in Iraq on the eve of conflict to be published.

Shadow attorney general Bill Cash said there was a "massive discrepancy of constitutional importance" between Ms Short and the government over the legal advice.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Vicky Young
"According to officials Tony Blair is simply getting on with the job"


Leader of the Commons John Reid MP
"The manner in which Clare went leaves us all with some regrets"



SEE ALSO:
Profile of Hilary Benn
13 May 03  |  Politics


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