Exit at last for serial resigner

By CHRIS MONCRIEFFof the Press Association THE surprising thing about firebrand Clare Short's resignation is that her departure from the Cabinet did not happen much earlier.


of the Press Association

THE surprising thing about firebrand Clare Short's resignation is that her departure from the Cabinet did not happen much earlier.

Ms Short seems to have lived a charmed life as Secretary for International Development, first by describing the Prime Minister as "reckless" and then by missing a key vote last week on the contentious issue of foundation hospitals.

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It looked as though she was almost begging to be sacked.

Those who have watched her progress are still astonished that such a volatile person, who seems incapable of responding other than publicly and noisily when things happen of which she disapproves, has lasted for so long in the top echelons of Government.

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Her reputation as what someone once described as "a serial resigner" was made when she served under Neil Kinnock as Leader of the Opposition.

Clare Short stands out among the present generation of politicians as a person who speaks her mind bluntly and without the slightest fear of the personal consequences to herself.

She is the epitome of the explosive loose cannon of Westminster, and has been described as a "hot-blooded, self-igniting, hip-shooting, semi-hard left feminist'.

Clare Short was born in Birmingham on February 15 1946 and was educated at St Paul's Grammar School, Birmingham, and at the Universities of Keele and Leeds. She graduated as a Bachelor of Arts with honours in political science.

Her father, Frank Short, was a teacher born in Crossmaglen, a fervently republican area of Northern Ireland.

Her interest in Northern Ireland has never waned, and some have accused her of being too sympathetic to the republican cause, when her sympathies lie with individuals who, she felt, had been wronged throughout their lives simply on sectarian grounds.

For years, she worked as a senior civil servant at the Home Office and entered the Commons as MP for her home territory of Birmingham Ladywood in 1983.

She quickly acquired a reputation as a forceful, even shock-inducing politician, drinking pints in Annie's Bar and embracing feminist causes with all the fervour that the Irish blood in her veins could muster.

She attacked Page Three girls in The Sun newspaper with the kind of vitriol which earned her the description by one commentator as "cuddlesome in repose but rather less so when speaking."

She demanded the sacking, in 1988, of Judge James Pickles, for jailing a woman who was too frightened to give evidence against a man who beat her.

She is said to be the only member of Mr Blair's Cabinet who has never voted for the winning candidate in any election for Labour's leader, not even when Tony Benn challenged Neil Kinnock in 1988.

At first she gave the impression that she could not see Tony Blair as leader, but finally decided she "could work with this guy.".

To say she is unorthodox is an understatement. Her future character was probably moulded when at school she was appointed as playground protector against the local bully - that is the sort of position she has maintained ever since.

In 1991, Ms Short quit the shadow cabinet after refusing Mr Kinnock's instructions that she could not speak outside her environmental portfolio.

From 1996 until the 1997 General Election she was Opposition spokeswoman on overseas development. Before that she had been shadow minister for women, shadow transport secretary and Opposition spokeswoman on environmental protection, social security and employment.

She was appointed International Development Secretary when Labour swept to power in 1997 and, astonishingly, until today has held on to that post.

In 1996, she rediscovered her son, City solicitor Toby Young, who had been given up for adoption during her first marriage at 18 to a fellow Keele student.

Her second marriage in 1981 was to Alex Lyons, a Home Office Minister who lost his seat at York just as she won her seat in Ladywood.

They met when she was working in the Home Office. Mr Lyons developed Alzheimer's and he died in 1993.

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