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Monday, 19 March, 2001, 14:48 GMT
Clare Short: International Development

By BBC News Online's Chris Hamilton

Clare Short has seemingly wobbled more than most ministers while walking the tightrope between leftwing conviction on one side and loyalty to Tony Blair and the New Labour project on the other.

The 55-year-old has hit the headlines on numerous occasions for speaking "off message".


The obsession with the media and focus groups is making us look as if we want power at any price and don't stand for anything

On New Labour under Tony Blair, 1996
But her outspoken manner, clear emotional attachment to issues and socialist credentials have seemingly fuelled respect for her among the public and, perhaps more importantly in career terms, grassroots party members.

A member of the Labour Party since 1970, Ms Short's political stance was for years illustrated through membership of leftwing Labour organisations including the Campaign Group and the Supper Club.

Ms Short has championed a diverse array of causes, from those wanting British troops out of Northern Ireland to women-only Labour shortlists and opposition to the tabloid "Page Three" pin-up.

The MP for inner-city Birmingham Ladywood enjoys a strong local base and her domestic agenda has prominently featured urban issues such as immigration, race and unemployment.


They say 10,000, double, treble, and then think of another number

It will be golden elephants next


On aid to Montserrat, 1997
Like many of her colleagues the road to ministerial level was a long one through several portfolios in opposition, beginning in 1985 as a junior education spokesman and taking in social security, transport and overseas development.

Outspoken opposition to the Gulf War saw her resign from her social security role and the opposition frontbench in 1991.

Some might see Ms Short's later advancement under Tony Blair as a surprise.


Peter Mandelson went last Wednesday and he went because he has got problems with the truth

On her former ministerial colleague, 2001
After not backing him in the 1994 leadership race she went on to dissent publicly from a range of New Labour policies.

She suggested cannabis could be considered for legalisation, supported renationalisation of the privatised railways and favoured abolition of the Trident nuclear missile system.

Then there was the outspoken attack on Mr Blair's advisers as "the people who live in the dark".

It was widely seen as targeting, among others, Mr Blair's friend and confidant Peter Mandelson - who Ms Short went on to accuse of having "problems with the truth" after his last cabinet resignation.

But appointment to the post of overseas development secretary came as soon as Labour won the 1997 general election victory.

Early controversy came over her handling of British aid to the volcano-hit island of Montserrat when she commented that islanders would be demanding "golden elephants next".

More followed on the BBC's Question Time last year when she described the millennium dome as a "disaster."

But the prime minister has kept faith with Ms Short.

Many credited her continued survival to her support for the Kosovo campaign - she called Labour MPs opposing air strikes against Serbia "an absolute disgrace to the party".

But aside from managing to stay in office she can point to another notable success during her time as minister: the initiative cancelling 600m of debt owed Britain by the Third World's poorest countries.

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