Ms Short flouted the order given only a week ago by the leadership for party unity, by openly criticising Mr Blair's leadership style and appealing for Labour supporters to join a "conspiracy" to bring out the best in the Labour leader.
In an interview in the New Statesman, published today, Ms Short launches a thinly veiled attack on the Labour leader's closest advisers. She says: "I think the obsession with the media and the focus groups is making us look as if we want power at any price and that we don't stand for anything. And the people who think Tony has got to look very strong are making him less attractive than he is. This is a very stupid thing to do. He came along as a fresh, young, principled and decent man and some people are trying to turn him into a macho man, not seeming decent and principled. I know they are doing it because they think it's the way to win, but I think they're making the wrong judgement and they endanger our victory."
With Mr Blair on holiday in Tuscany, and unaware of the content of the interview, John Prescott, the Deputy Leader of the Labour party acted quickly last night to scotch speculation that she would be sacked as a result of the interview.
Mr Prescott privately expressed sadness at the tone of the interview, but made it clear that he didn't regard it as a sacking offence. His priority was to limit the damage it is likely to cause. "To those who are asking whether she will be ... shot at dawn, the answer is 'no'," said a Labour source.
However, her frank remarks will be seen as a do-or-die attempt to challenge the power base of the advisers around Mr Blair. And last night it drew support from the left wing of the Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn, another outspoken critic of the leadership, said: "Clare is quite right to draw attention to the appalling power of the spin doctors and the way that politics is dominated by totally unrepresentative focus groups. There is a real danger of us upsetting our core support which could lose the election. [But] it is not a question of the advisers - it is the direction in which Tony Blair is trying to take the party."
Conservative Party chairman Dr Brian Mawhinney said Ms Short's comments proved that she thought New Labour was dangerous. He said: "Clare Short has made it clear that the leadership of the Labour Party hate each other and do not trust each other or Mr Blair."
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