Short accuses colleague of lying

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The Independent Online
THE SPECTRE of political vultures trying to pick out the eyes of Clare Short is presented by the outspoken Cabinet minister in a Valentine's Day documentary to be broadcast on BBC2 tomorrow night.

After a Cabinet exchange on the Orange Order marches in Northern Ireland last summer, an inaccurate leak appeared in a Sunday newspaper in October, in which she was reported to have told ministerial colleagues that the marches should be treated like those of "the Ku Klux Klan and Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts".

Tomorrow's fly-on-the-wall documentary captures Ms Short's incautious reaction, in which she accuses an unknown Cabinet minister of the leak.

"It's just utterly malicious," she says. "It's someone from within the Cabinet because it's a lie about a discussion that did take place. It's very sad. It's extraordinary that people on your own side would do such things, but there you go. I have to be a little bit more careful." In the programme, Ms Short explains the background to her controversial reference to "golden elephants" after the volcano erupted on Montserrat.

She says it was a "dreadful mistake"; she had meant to reflect the impossibility of islanders' demands for aid as "pink elephants", but she had mistakenly used the adjective, "golden".

"It was dreadful," she says. "I feel very bruised and battered by it. I mean, part of it is my fault. It isn't all my fault, but I am very damaged by it, there's no question about that, and some people have tried to use it to damage me. And I am amazed how many vultures there are out there trying to pick my eyes out."

According to Peter Gill, the reporter, officials asked for her accusation against the unnamed Cabinet colleague to be cut, but it was Ms Short herself who asked - unsuccessfully - for another remark to be deleted.

The Secretary of State for International Development was talking about her main task, "that of reducing by one half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015."

However, she then added: "Clearly, there can be no more nobler task that the world could commit itself to as we approach the new millennium; much more impressive than domes at Greenwich, but I'd better not talk about that. Sorry, don't tell anyone I said that."

At the end of the programme, she says: "I am 51-years-old. Perhaps I have learnt at last, but you know there are some people who aren't as nice as you would like in politics." Or, she might now add, in broadcasting either.

Last night, the Prime Minister's spokesman sought to play down the significance of the programme and Ms Short's remarks. He said Tony Blair held her in high regard. Asked about Mr Blair's attitude to Ms Short, the spokesman said: "He likes Clare Short, he respects Clare Short and thinks she is a good Cabinet Minister."

Labour last night went down to a humiliating poll defeat at Doncaster, the South Yorkshire council at the centre of "sleaze" allegations. It lost a seat in its traditional Stainforth stronghold to the Liberal Democrats on a 36.1 per cent swing.

The result comes after a district auditor's report claiming a saga of freeloading including club-class airline travel, and working lunch bills of up to pounds 175 for four. Labour suspended the local party in the wake of the so-called "Donnygate" affair.

The by-election was caused after the council's former deputy leader forfeited his seat after failing to attend meetings.