Short set to stand down after 23 years as an MP

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The Independent Online

* While Tony Blair continues to huff and puff over his departure date from office, one of his biggest critics inside the Labour Party is planning her own farewell.

Former cabinet minister Clare Short is to stand down as MP for Birmingham, Ladywood, at the next general election after holding the seat for more than 23 years.

Short was only recently touted as a possible "wild-card" candidate for a party leadership contest, but she has has now privately admitted her colleagues the next general election will be her last.

"Clare feels her future lies elsewhere, but certainly intends to remain politically active," a party colleague tells me. "She's already talking about playing a prominent role in the campaign for electoral reform."

Short's parliamentary career has been among the most colourful in recent years. She memorably came to prominence as a young MP when she accused Tory rival Alan Clark of being drunk in the Chamber, as well as going on to campaign against Page 3 models in The Sun.

After being appointed Secretary of State for International Development following the 1997 election, she quit the cabinet in 2003 over the Iraq war, claiming the PM's dealings with the security council had "contradicted" assurances she had given the Commons.

While Short's office declined to comment on the news yesterday, I'm told: "Clare's had a great career as a politician and has decided it's time to think about the next phase of her life."

* I do hope Eric Idle hasn't scuppered Michael Palin's plans to reunite Monty Python before they've even begun.

Earlier this month, Palin announced that he was keen to reunite with his former colleagues to produce one last comedy album.

"I'd be interested," he told one newspaper. "You exaggerate the ease of getting everyone into a studio, but I'd like that."

But although Palin claims his idea has been greeted with enthusiasm by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, Idle is so far yet to reply.

The reason, apparently, may have something to do with Idle's plans to reunite several years ago.

"Michael was the one who put the kibosh on Eric's plans back then," I'm told.

"Eric was pretty miffed at the time, it'll be surprising if he's willing to co-operate now that the boot's on the other foot."

* David Hasselhoff is proving there is no corner too remote to travel in order to touch the lives of his bulging fanbase.

Hasselhoff will be journeying to Croydon tomorrow to visit the North End branch of Woolworths. He'll be there most of the afternoon signing copies of his forthcoming autobiography, Making Waves.

Croydon, of course, is no stranger to glamour - it is the birthplace of supermodel Kate Moss - but it's certainly a far cry from Hasselfhoff's sun-soaked beaches of California.

"I suppose it is, but he's looking forward to it," says a spokesman for the book's publisher Hodder and Stoughton. "Besides, this is a trade outlet we often use when we're promoting one of our new titles."

* Members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee will interrupt their summer holidays today to grill Kim Howells on Britain's Middle East policy. They are already dissatisfied with the Foreign Office minister before proceedings begin.

Having agreed to return to Westminster for the meeting, a number are decidedly unhappy that Howells will be available for only an hour's-worth of interrogation.

"We'd normally expect to get an hour-and-half or two hours," complains committee member and Lib Dem MP, Richard Younger-Ross. "We have not yet been given a reason for why this is different. Dragging MPs from all quarters of the country for just one hour just seems a bit discourteous."

* Here's one for any aspiring hobbits out there.

Next Monday, a nationwide hunt begins to find 20 suitably dumpy creatures to appear as extras in next year's West End production of The Lord of the Rings.

Applicants will face an X-Factor-style audition for the roles of Pippin, played by Billy Boyd in the big screen trilogy, and friends, where they will be required to sing two songs and display "hobbit-like tendencies".

According to a press release for the auditions:

"The producers are looking for male and female actors and singers, aged between 16-35, who must be under 5ft 7 in bare feet.

"Hairy toes and big feet are an advantage." Splendid!