Clare Short MP: You Ask The Questions ...

The former Secret of State for International Development answers your questions, such as: 'Why has it taken you so long to leave Labour?' and 'When did you last get stoned?'
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It's no secret that for a long time you have been very disappointed with the New Labour Party. Why have you taken so long to go independent? RAYMOND SMITH, by e-mail

You are right that I have expressed disagreement and voted against the Government many times. The reason for the break in the elastic was the Chief Whip threatening expulsion, withdrawal of the whip and public rebukes because I have said that a hung parliament is likely and could lead to electoral reform, which is key to correcting the arrogant, error- prone concentration of power in No 10.

Because this is my conclusion I intend to continue to say so and am not willing to be constantly threatened and bullied for my remaining two years in parliament.

Did you ask your constituents if they wanted you to become an independent MP? STEPHAN BATEMAN, by e-mail

It is impossible to consult them all. Constituents have been very supportive in the streets, at my advice bureaux and in letters and e-mails.

Isn't the Labour Party bigger than Tony Blair and Iraq? Why didn't you stay and fight? ROB KEANE, Islington

I have remained a member of the Labour Party but resigned the Labour whip. Labour will rebuild, but is badly diminished and dishonoured.

Could you please explain how you campaign for a hung parliament and how I vote for one? SIMON FAHY, Darlington

A hung parliament is likely. The Tories have to be 8 per cent ahead to win. Labour is losing support and the Lib Dems seem a bit stuck. No one can ensure that we get a hung parliament, but we should embrace the prospect and not be scared of it.

Had you resigned at the same time as Robin Cook, sufficient Labour MPs may have been convinced to vote against the war. How can you not feel responsible for the catastrophe that has followed? ALLAN FORRESTER, Westray, Orkney

The majority in favour of war was 412 to 149 and an amendment to refer the matter back to the UN was lost by 396 to 217. it was simply impossible to win the vote because the Conservatives were voting with the Government. I fully intended to vote against the war and had booked my slot for a resignation statement, then Blair entered into negotiations. He asked what would persuade me not to resign. I said implement the road map to a Palestinian state by 2005 and internationalise Iraqi reconstruction under a UN lead. He promised both and got Bush to announce his support for the road map. It soon became clear that he hadn't meant to do either. My decision was that the war was unstoppable but if we got a Palestinian state and UN-led reconstruction of Iraq, the worst of the consequences would be avoided. Sadly, Blair's promises were worth nothing.

Do you think that Tony Blair deserves to be tried for war crimes? If not, why not? STEVE HAMILTON, Glasgow

I do not think the International Court is in a position to act against him. I do think that the Labour Party should have told him to go and the House of Commons should have forced him to stand down for all the deceit that he used to get us to war.

We voters have a dim view of politicians as selfish, untrustworthy ego-maniacs. Are we wrong? PETER DONALD, Ipswich

Ego and vanity are the diseases of politics and exaggerated majorities, excessive patronage powers, and politics dominated by spin have led to a terrible lack of principle or truthfulness.

Do you agree that Tony Blair should be on a psychiatrist's couch rather than in No 10? If so, can you think of another politician who should join him? JIM MILLER, by e-mail

I think Tony Blair should be an actor or TV presenter and not a politician. The Tory whips have a saying that no one comes out of No 10 completely sane. Blair is now delusional. It is the story of the Emperor's clothes again.

Gordon Brown has gone along with all of Blair's misadventures. Do you really expect us to believe he will be any better? KATE HALPIN, Sheffield

Gordon Brown is brighter than Blair, more concerned for social justice and more committed to the history of the party. But he has been diminished by going along with all Blair has done. He is also a control freak. I hope he will be better but am not confident.

Would you say the rising stars of today's Labour Party are less concerned with political or moral principles than used to be the case? MICHAEL MARSDEN, by e-mail

Yes, I am sorry to say I would.

It's gratifying that you seem to be embracing the causes and policies of the Green movement, but why has it taken so long? MIKE SHEARING, by e-mail

I am a Sixties kid. I have always been against greedy consumerism. By 1997 I was convinced that global warming was a problem but the Green movement then was often anti-developmental. My view was that we had to guarantee an end to poverty and then reach agreements on sharing environmental resources in a more equitable world.

After spending years in Africa, I have come to the conclusion that the billions we hand over in aid do more harm than good. Do you agree at all? ROY LIPTON, Glasgow

Lots of aid has been misused, especially in the Cold War years. In fact, aid spending is tiny. The G7 spends just over $60bn [£32bn] on aid and $600bn on arms. We need aid to deal with disasters (of which there will be more). In addition, aid should help countries to clean up their financial systems and build decent health and education systems. Then the conditions are right for private-sector investment and the economic growth essential to the reduction of poverty. There is too much politics in aid but without it the world would be worse.

Do you still believe only governments support the poor and not the " NGOs squawking all over the place"? MARK MURTON, Sutton, Surrey

Taxpayers supply nearly £7bn in aid and NGOs collect £200m from the public. Governments need to deal with the big issues like change in trade rules and deploying peacekeeping forces. NGOs can be useful in pushing for change and running projects but sometimes they talk as though they speak for people in the developing world and they do not have that authority.

What do you think about Madonna adopting a baby in Malawi? I'm not rich and famous but I'd like to buy a baby in Africa to rescue it from a lifetime of poverty. Would you mind if I do? LUCY PIDGEON, by e-mail

It is very odd to adopt a baby whose father is alive. I see Madonna has said that David can visit home every year. I hope she keeps to that. Adoption is a complex business and causes lots of pain. I am not saying it is always wrong but in general it is better to support children to live in their own countries in contact with their extended family.

Do you think that it's inevitable a party in power for nine years will become corrupted by that power? REBECCA CONNOP PRICE, by e-mail

I think power corrupts and creates arrogance. We need more robust systems of accountability. In particular I favour a parliament with parties represented in proportion to their vote which would create governments that had to be more responsive to public and parliamentary opinion.

Given that the Northern Ireland peace process seems to be working, do you regret supporting the Troops Out movement (a certain recipe for civil war in Ireland) and hiding that your Republican family background made you essentially pro-IRA? BRIAN DODDS, by e-mail

I never supported Troops Out because you can't pull all the troops out without a political solution. My family supported the Republican case, but were not involved in violence. I have long supported the action to end discrimination and get talks going. I strongly supported John Hume when he was being vilified for talking with Gerry Adams to get him to give up the gun and come into the political process. This is the route that has led to success.

When did you last get stoned? PAUL B, Perth, Australia

A bit too much alcohol, not long ago. A bit too much cannabis, when I was a student.

Would you still ban Page 3 girls? SALLY ANN CROWTHER, Manchester

Yes. Foreigners still find it astonishing that we have such pictures in newspapers. They create an image of women to be used and thrown away which is mainstream and demeans us all.

Are there any decent Tories? PHIL BARKER, Brixton


What is the single most important lesson you have learnt from your years at the top in politics? MATT MACINTYRE, Stourbridge

That if we wanted to, we could make the international system more fair and efficient and the world more equitable, just and sustainable.

What was the worst example of press intrusion you've suffered? And would you like to see privacy legislation? ALEX MCDONALD, Aberdeen

When the News of the World and the West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad teamed up to "get me" because I had been involved in exposing the Squad's falsification of evidence. I kept getting messages from people in my schooldays that the News of the World had been around. The Press Complaints Commission and the Police Complaints Authority upheld my complaints. But it was terrifying. I don't think any government will bring in privacy legislation because it offends the media, but the European Convention's right to privacy will lead courts to provide more protection.

What did the wonderful rediscovery of your adopted son teach you? JANET O'GRADY, Dublin

Never to give up hope and that love lasts forever.

You Ask The Questions. Next week: Jack Straw

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