Clare Short's resignation showed off all the New Labour vices that she criticised.
In her resignation speech, ex-development secretary Clare Short attacked prime minister Tony Blair’s Iraq policy as ‘totally dishonourable’.
She then launched into a series of attacks on Blair’s style of government – claiming that a centralised system of power was ‘undermining trust and straining party loyalty’. ‘There is no collective responsibility because there is no collective’, she said, ‘just diktats in favour of increasingly badly thought through policy initiatives that come from on high’. Short even accused Blair of being ‘obsessed by his place in history’.
The irony was that Short’s resignation was the starkest representation of New Labour’s vices – of vanity, personal interest and the lack of collective or political principles. Her resignation was driven less by political principles than by a desire to salvage her reputation, which had been tarnished by her unfulfilled threat to resign over the war. She attempted to blacken Blair’s name in a last-ditch effort to save her own.
This has failed miserably. Short’s speech came across as petulant and hysterical – Guardian sketchwriter Simon Hoggart noted ‘hatred, scorn, revenge and contempt…welling up from the core of her being’. In comparison, ex-leader of the house Robin Cook’s resignation speech at the outset of the Iraq war appeared measured and dignified. Whereas Cook’s mature criticisms of government Iraq policy had force and won applause, Short’s unrestrained assaults drew gasps of shock but failed to strike home.
This is a fitting end for a minister who has made a career by presenting herself as governed by impulse rather than political interest. Like ex-Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam, Short was seen as someone who would speak her mind, who was above the machinations of party machines. It is this reputation for not being a politician that made her so useful to Tony Blair, who was constantly trying to build a ‘genuine’ connection with voters, and to combat accusations of managerial politics.
In her undignified fall, Short has shown that being in touch with your feelings does not make for political integrity. Her decision to go on the radio to criticise Blair’s Iraq policy because she felt angry, then deciding that she was less angry after Tony had had a word, has been treated with the contempt that it deserves. While adherence to political principles means a sustained allegiance, that guides your actions over a period of time, Clare’s only allegiance was to Clare.
Short is the perfect embodiment of the personalisation of politics that she criticises. Political life today is organised not on the basis of parties and ideologies, but on the basis of individuals and their personalities.
This is why Short has no allies, and has no future as a rebel in government. There is no such thing as ‘Shortism’ or ‘Shortists’; there are no ranks of supporters allied to her position to whom she can now turn. Through her more-personal-than-political resignation, Short proved her own assertion that there is ‘no collective’ in government. Every charge that she levelled at Blair, she was guilty of herself in more grotesque form.
The war of Clare’s ego, by Jennie Bristow
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