Clare Short

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The Right Honourable
Clare Short
Clare Short at the Energy Conference 2015 crop.jpg
Short speaking at the EITI Energy Conference, January 2015
Secretary of State for International Development
In office
2 May 1997 – 12 May 2003
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Lynda Chalker (as Minister for Overseas Development)
Succeeded by The Baroness Amos
Shadow Minister for Overseas Development
In office
25 July 1996 – 2 May 1997
Leader Tony Blair
Preceded by Joan Lestor
Succeeded by Alastair Goodlad (as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development)
Shadow Secretary of State for Transport
In office
19 October 1995 – 25 July 1996
Leader Tony Blair
Preceded by Michael Meacher
Succeeded by Andrew Smith
Shadow Minister for Women
In office
21 October 1993 – 19 October 1995
Leader Tony Blair
Preceded by Mo Mowlam
Succeeded by Tessa Jowell
Member of Parliament
for Birmingham Ladywood
In office
10 June 1983 – 12 April 2010
Preceded by John Sever
Succeeded by Shabana Mahmood
Personal details
Born (1946-02-15) 15 February 1946 (age 75)
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, United Kingdom
Political party Independent (2006–present)
Other political
Labour (1983–2006)
Spouse(s) Alex Lyon (1981–1993)
Alma mater University of Leeds
Website Official biography

Clare Short (born 15 February 1946) is a British politician, and a member of the Labour Party. She was the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood from 1983 to 2010; for most of this period she was a Labour Party MP, but she resigned the party whip in 2006 and served the remainder of her term as an Independent. She stood down as a member of parliament at the 2010 general election.[1] Short was Secretary of State for International Development in the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair from 3 May 1997 until her resignation from that post on 12 May 2003. Shortly before her retirement from Parliament in 2010, she was strongly rebuked by her own party when she announced her support for a hung parliament,[2] a situation which subsequently occurred at the 2010 General Election.


Early life

Clare Short was born in Birmingham, England in 1946 to Irish Catholic parents from County Armagh, Northern Ireland.[3][4][5] She would later be supportive of peaceful Sinn Féin initiatives, although she was never a supporter of IRA violence, some of the worst of which was inflicted in a 1974 bombing of her home city of Birmingham.

Short was briefly married to a fellow student at 18 after she had a child at 17.[6] Their son was given up for adoption, and did not make contact with his birth mother until 1996. She discovered that her son, Toby, was a Conservative supporter who worked as a solicitor in the City of London, and that she was a grandmother of his three children. Her second marriage, to former Labour minister Alex Lyon, ended when he died from Alzheimer's disease in 1993. Short is a cousin of Canadian actor Martin Short; their fathers were brothers.

With a degree in political science from the University of Leeds, she became a civil servant in the Home Office. Working as Private Secretary to the Conservative minister Mark Carlisle gave her the idea that she "could do better" than many of the MPs she dealt with, and in the 1983 UK general election she became MP for Ladywood, Birmingham, the area where she grew up.

Member of Parliament

At the start of her career she was firmly on the left wing of the party. She gained some notoriety shortly after her election in 1983 when she implied the government's Employment minister Alan Clark was drunk at the despatch box. Clark's colleagues on the government benches in turn accused Short of using un-Parliamentary language and the Deputy Speaker, Ernest Armstrong, asked her to withdraw her accusation.[7] Clark later admitted in his diaries that Short had been correct in her assessment.

In 1986 she gained attention for campaigning against Page 3 photographs of topless models in The Sun and other British tabloid newspapers. For this she was nicknamed by The Sun "killjoy Clare."[8] One paper bought and published alleged photographs of Short in her nightwear from her first husband. She stated they were pictures of somebody else's body with her face superimposed.[9]

She supported John Prescott in the Labour deputy-leadership election in 1988 (against Eric Heffer and the incumbent Roy Hattersley), leaving the Socialist Campaign Group, along with Margaret Beckett, as a result of Tony Benn's decision to challenge Neil Kinnock for the leadership. She supported Margaret Beckett for the Labour leadership in 1994 against Tony Blair and John Prescott. She also called for the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland.

She rose through the ranks of the Labour Front Bench, despite twice resigning from it – over the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1988, and over the Gulf War in 1990. She became Shadow Minister for Women, and then Shadow Transport Secretary. At the 1995 Labour conference, Short denounced Liz Davies as "unsuitable" after Davies had been selected as a Parliamentary candidate by a constituency Labour Party in Leeds North-East. This was seen as an attempt to win the favour of the right wing of the party, especially Tony Blair.[10] However, in 1996, Short was moved to the Overseas Development portfolio, a move which she saw as a demotion.[11] Short has also called for the legalisation of cannabis.

Secretary of State for International Development

After the 1997 UK general election the Overseas Development Administration was given full departmental status as the Department for International Development, with Short as the first cabinet-level Secretary of State for International Development. She retained this post throughout the first term of the Labour government, and beyond the 2001 UK general election into the second.

On her appointment to the DfID, journalists asked Short whether she would be "good" (in other words, not cause embarrassment to the government). She replied "I'm going to try to be good but I can't help it, I have to be me."[12] A few months later, the island of Montserrat (one of the United Kingdom's few remaining overseas territories) was devastated by a volcano eruption which rendered half the island uninhabitable; when the 4,500 islanders asked for more help from the DfID, Short was reported to have remarked "they will be asking for golden elephants next" and refused to visit the island. This remark caused great offence to the Montserratians and others; Labour MP Bernie Grant said that "She sounds like a mouthpiece for an old 19th century colonial and Conservative government."[13]

Land reform in Zimbabwe

On 6 November 1997 Short sent a letter to Kumbirai Kangai, Minister of Agriculture in Zimbabwe, in which she stated that "we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe." She went on to write "We are a new government from diverse backgrounds, without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and, as you know, we were colonised, not colonisers." In the same letter she did, however, offer qualified support for land reform: "We do recognise the very real issues you face over land reform... we would be prepared to support a programme of land reform that was part of a poverty eradication strategy, but not on any other basis." This letter caused a rift with the Zimbabwean government, which asserted that the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979 had contained a continuing pledge from the United Kingdom government to assist in land reform.[14]

Position on the arms trade

In December 1997, Short signed Britain into the Ottawa Convention, banning the production, handling and use of anti-personnel mines.[15]

In 2001, she wrote that the "ready availability of small arms has a direct and negative impact upon levels of crime and conflict in developing countries. We (the DFID) are supporting various peace building and disarmament initiatives."[16] The following year she claimed that Britain was "committed to combating small arms availability and misuse."[17]


On 9 March 2003 Short repeatedly called Tony Blair "reckless" in a BBC radio interview[18] and threatened to resign from the Cabinet in the event of the British government going to war with Iraq without a clear mandate from the United Nations. This looked set to be a reprise of her previous resignation as party spokesperson during the Gulf War of 1991 as a protest against the Labour Party's stance, although in 1999 she had publicly supported the NATO attack on Serbia. However, on 18 March she announced that she would remain in the Cabinet and support the government's resolution in the House of Commons.

Short remained in the Cabinet for two months after her decision to back the 2003 Iraq War. She resigned on 12 May.[19]

Bugging of the UN

On 26 February 2004 Short alleged on the BBC Today radio programme that British spies regularly intercept UN communications, including those of Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General.[20] The claim was made the day after the unexplained dropping of whistleblowing charges against former GCHQ translator Katharine Gun. Reacting to Short's statement, Tony Blair said "I really do regard what Clare Short has said this morning as totally irresponsible, and entirely consistent [with Short's character]." Blair also claimed that Short had put British security, particularly the security of its spies, at risk.[21] The same day, on the BBC's Newsnight programme, Short called Blair's response "pompous" and said that Britain had no need to spy on Kofi Annan. Blair did not explicitly deny the claims but Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary, wrote that in his experience he would be surprised if the claims were true.

A few days later (on 29 February 2004) Short appeared on ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme. She revealed that she had been written to by Britain's senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Andrew Turnbull. Turnbull's confidential letter (which Short showed to Dimbleby, and which was quoted on the programme) formally admonished her for discussing intelligence matters in the media, and threatened "further action" if she did not desist from giving interviews on the issue. Turnbull wrote that she had made claims "which damage the interests of the United Kingdom", and that he was "extremely disappointed". The "further action" referred to in the letter has been interpreted as threatening either the removal of Short's status as a Privy Counsellor or to legal action under the Official Secrets Act. Either course of action would be without recent precedent; the last time a Privy Counsellor's status was revoked was in 1921 when Sir Edgar Speyer was accused of collaborating with the Germans during the First World War. However, on 1 March 2004, Tony Blair's official spokesman refused to rule out such a step. The Privy Counsellorship of another Labour MP, Elliot Morley, was revoked on 14 June 2011.

However, in the same interview on the Jonathan Dimbleby programme, Short backtracked on her claim about British agents bugging Annan. She admitted that the transcripts she saw of Annan's private conversations might have related to Africa and not to Iraq. Asked whether she could confirm that the transcripts related to Iraq, she said: "I can't, but there might well have been ... I cannot remember a specific transcript in relation, it doesn't mean it wasn't there." Short also admitted that her original claim, on the Today programme, that Britain had eavesdropped on Annan may have been inaccurate. Asked whether the material could have passed to the British by the Americans, she said: "It could. But it normally indicates that. But I can't remember that."[22]


File:An Honourable Deception.jpg
Cover of An Honourable Deception, featuring a picture of Short

Clare Short's book, An Honourable Deception?: New Labour, Iraq, and the Misuse of Power, was released by Free Press in November 2004.[23] It is an account of her career in New Labour, most notably her relationship with Tony Blair, the relationship between Blair and Gordon Brown and the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In December 2004, Short was reportedly critical of US efforts to dispense aid to countries devastated by a tsunami caused by a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean. She was quoted as stating that the formation of a group of countries led by the United States for this purpose was a challenge to the role of the United Nations, which she believed was uniquely qualified for the task.[citation needed]

Announced retirement

On 12 September 2006, Short announced that she would not be standing at the next general election. In a brief statement, Short said she was "ashamed" of Tony Blair's government and backed proportional representation, which she hoped would be achieved through a hung parliament. The Labour Party Chief Whip referred the matter to the Labour Party National Executive Committee to consider disciplinary action.[24] On Friday 20 October, Short resigned the Labour whip and announced that she would sit as an Independent Labour MP.[25] Short received a written reprimand from Labour's Chief Whip shortly before the news of her resignation of the party whip was announced.[26]

After Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister, Short said that the change offered "a new beginning", and hinted that she might re-join the parliamentary Labour party if Brown changed the policies that had caused her to leave.[27]

Chilcot Inquiry

On 2 February 2010, Short appeared before the Chilcot Inquiry into Iraq. During this she repeatedly criticised Tony Blair, Attorney General Peter Goldsmith and others in the UK Government for allegedly deceiving her and other MPs in an attempt to obtain consent for the invasion of Iraq.[28]

Statements on Israel

Short speaking at a rally in Birmingham in January 2009, urging the crowd "not forget the crimes being committed against the people of Gaza" following the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict

Short has condemned Israel as being guilty of "bloody, brutal and systematic annexation of land, destruction of homes and the deliberate creation of an apartheid system." She has also stated that "the EU and Britain are colluding in this operation and the building of a new apartheid regime" because they give Israel privileged trade access.[29] Short has expressed support for a boycott of Israel, stating at the 2007 United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace that "The boycott worked for South Africa, it is time to do it again".[30][31] She also told the conference that Israel is "much worse than the original apartheid state" and that Israel "undermines the international community's reaction to global warming".[32][33]

Regarding the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Short stated that "Israel is out of control and our Government and the US is giving them a green light to continue" and that "Britain clearly now just backs President (George W.) Bush in whatever he does, in automatically backing Israel in breaching international law, in disproportionate attacks on Lebanon and attacks on Gaza".[34]

Relationship with Hezbollah-affiliate al-Manar Television

According to The Guardian, Short accepted £1,580 worth of flights, hotel accommodation, food and travel expenses from al-Manar Television in Lebanon in 2008. Al-Manar was described by the US government as terrorist entity in 2006.[35]

Chairwoman of the EITI

On 1 March 2011 she was elected as Chairwoman of the EITI (the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) at the EITI Global Conference in Paris.[36]

Policy work with Cities Alliance

Since 2006, Short was a member of the Cities Alliance Policy Advisory Board and subsequently chaired the Policy Advisory Forum,[37] described as a "platform for public discussion, debate and knowledge sharing" on urban poverty and the role of cities.[38]

Birmingham Mayor candidate

In January 2011 Short expressed an interest in becoming the Mayor of Birmingham, pending the outcome of a referendum on the creation of a directly-elected mayoralty in the city.[39] Ultimately the proposal was defeated at the public vote in May 2012.[40]

The Ebor Lectures – 2008 Series

On 21 May 2008, Short gave a lecture as part of the Ebor Lectures 2008 Series on entitled "Apocalypse Now – Global Equity and Sustainable Living, the Preconditions for Human Survival." The lecture took place at York Minster and Short was introduced by the Dean of York, the Very Revd. Keith Jones.

In her lecture, Short emphasised the need for the end of our current 'throw away' society. She considered the changing conception of the world since the 1960s and emphasised the need for us to consider the consequences of today's environmental concerns for the generations of the future. Short also introduced the subject of Transition Towns, speaking about the first of such towns in Totnes, Devon, UK. These towns aim to create a "community" for the future which "addresses the twin challenges of diminishing oil and gas supplies and climate change, and creates the kind of community that we would all want to be part of."[41] Short was particularly excited about the prospect of a Transition Town movement in Birmingham where her constituency is located.

Expenses controversy

After The Daily Telegraph published details of MPs' expenses in 2009, Short admitted that in 2003 she had overclaimed £8,000, using parliamentary expenses to pay for her mortgage. She repaid it in 2006. In addition, the records show that "over the past four years Miss Short has submitted regular claims for decorating at her second home, including hundreds of pounds worth of work to a summer house and conservatory, as well as her porch, patio and kitchen. She also charged more than £1,500 for repainting." By 2009, Short had claimed and received over £65,000 in expenses (in addition to her salary).[42]


In June 2009 Short received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Ulster in recognition of her services to international development.[43]


  • Short, Clare (2004). An Honourable Deception? New Labour, Iraq, and the Misuse of Power. Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-6392-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Short, Clare (speech, 2001) Making Globalisation Work for the Poor: A Role for the United Nations Department for International Development, ISBN 1-86192-335-X
  • Short, Clare (1999). Debt Relief for Poverty Reduction. Department for International Development. ISBN 1-86192-100-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • edited by Short, Clare, K. Tunks, D. Hutchinson (1991) Dear Clare...This Is What Women Feel About Page 3 Radius, ISBN 0-09-174915-8


  • Miss Clare Short (1946–1981)
  • Mrs Clare Lyon (1981–)
  • Clare Short MP (1983–1997)
  • The Rt. Hon. Clare Short MP (1997–2010)
  • The Rt. Hon. Clare Short (2010–)

Extended Family

Short is first cousin of Canadian-American comedian Martin Short.


  1. Deedes, Henry (13 September 2006). "Short to stand down after 23 years as an MP". The Independent. UK. Retrieved 23 July 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Matthew Tempest and Hélène Mulholland (14 September 2006). "Short faces expulsion after calling for hung parliament". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 12 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Clare Short: Divided she stands". BBC News. 22 March 2002. Retrieved 23 July 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Family affair spanning the Irish Sea", by Kate Watson-Smyth, The Independent, 30 June 1997, hosted on[dead link]
  5. "John J. Ray | What England Means to Me". Retrieved 7 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Ministers turn their backs on marriage". Daily Mail. UK. 15 January 2001. Retrieved 17 August 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 20 July 1983. col. 483–484.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 'Dear Clare..This is What Women Feel About Page 3, Clare Short,Radius Publishing (1991).
  9. Clare Short, Meeting Myself Coming Back, BBC Four, 29–31 August 2009
  10. "British Journalism Review Vol. 11, No. 3, 2000 – The political struggle around Orwell's stapler". Retrieved 7 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. A peculiar sort of sacrifice from The Telegraph
  12. Iain Martin, Maurice Chittenden, "Scots to fore as gentleman Tony completes his team," The Sunday Times (London); 4 May 1997.
  13. Jon Hibbs, "Short calls for an end to Montserrat aid row", Daily Telegraph, 25 August 1997 Archived 21 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  14. Chris McGreal, "Blair's worse than the Tories, says Mugabe," Mail and Guardian (Johannesburg), 22 December 1997
  15. Mark Thomas, As used on the famous Nelson Mendela; Underground adventures in the arms & torture trade, Ebury Press, 2006
  16. "UK Parliament". from the UK Parliament
  17. "UK Parliament" from the UK Parliament
  18. Clare Short's "reckless" interview from the BBC
  19. "Clare Short's resignation letter". The Guardian. UK. 12 May 2003. Retrieved 13 April 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "UK 'spied on UN's Kofi Annan'". BBC. 26 February 2004. Retrieved 23 April 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. George Wright, Martin Nicholls and Matthew Tempest (26 February 2004). "Short claims UK spied on Annan". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 23 April 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Nicholas Watt (1 March 2004). "Top civil servant tells Short to shut up". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 23 April 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Sawhney, Hirsh (June 2006). "Blair's House of Cards: Clare Short in conversation with Hirsh Sawhney". The Brooklyn Rail.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Short faces expulsion after calling for hung parliament", Guardian, 12 September 2006
  25. "Short resigns Labour whip",, 20 October 2006
  26. "Written reprimand means Short won't be thrown out". Retrieved 7 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. "Short hints at return to Labour". BBC News. 29 June 2007. Retrieved 7 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Michael Holden: 'Clare Short says Blair lied over Iraq', Reuters UK, 2 February 2010.
  29. "Britain 'colluding' in Israel oppression". The Irish Times. 6 June 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "UN summit: Boycott Israel". 20 June 1995. Retrieved 7 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Controversial UN-sponsored conference on Palestinians denounces Israeli occupation from the European Jewish Press
  32. Anthony Julius (2010). Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England. Oxford University Press. p. 752.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. Robert S. Wistrich (2010). A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad. Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-6097-9. p. 541.
  34. Government giving Israel 'green light', accuses Short, Daily Mail Online, 22 July 2006
  35. James Ball (25 March 2011). "MPs accepted Middle East regimes' hospitality 107 times in a decade". London: Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. "Paris 2011 | EITI". 3 March 2011. Retrieved 7 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "Speakers". Global Forum on Local Development. UNCDF. 28 September 2010. Retrieved 23 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. "GOVERNANCE -- OLD". Cities Alliance. UNOPS. Retrieved 23 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. "Clare Short 'interested in becoming Birmingham mayor'". BBC News. BBC. 11 January 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. "Birmingham voters reject elected mayor plan". BBC News. BBC. 4 May 2012. Retrieved 15 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. "Transition Town Totnes". Retrieved 7 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. Prince, Rosa (14 May 2009). "Clare Short makes excessive claim for mortgage payment: MPs' expenses". The Daily Telegraph. UK: Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 12 August 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. MP Honoured For International Development Work University of Ulster

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Sever
Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood
Succeeded by
Shabana Mahmood
Political offices
Preceded by
The Baroness Chalker of Wallasey
as Minister of State for Overseas Development
Secretary of State for International Development
Succeeded by
The Baroness Amos