In a move designed to avoid a diplomatic rift with the White House, the Foreign Secretary stressed yesterday that the US President was a "friend of Britain".
Ms Short, the Secretary of State for Overseas Development, confirmed her reputation for speaking her mind yesterday by breaking ranks with Cabinet colleagues and criticising Mr Clinton.
Mr Blair was clearly embarrassed when he was asked about Ms Short's views during his trip to Hong Kong. The Prime Minister's official spokesman returned to the officially agreed line that the fate of the President was a matter for the American people.
Cabinet ministers had stuck rigidly to that approach regarding Mr Clinton for weeks, but Ms Short caused the diplomatic fur to fly during a late- night panel show.
"I think a politician that has done that much, told that many lies, isn't really fit to be a leader, but the American people appear to take another view and he is not going to go, so it's up to them," Ms Short said on BBC Question Time.
When it was pointed out to her by a member of the audience that her views clashed with Mr Blair, she went on: "This is a personal view about a politician who did certain things - one was the affair, but then there's the lies. I think the lies are more serious actually in politics.
"I was making the point that I think in our system any Prime Minister caught out in a similar way would go."
Ms Short has fallen foul of Labour spin doctors in the past for putting into words what many people are thinking, and yesterday the Government machine delivered a stiff rebuke for talking out of turn by being contradicted by the Foreign Secretary.
Mr Cook said: "President Clinton has been a good friend of Britain. We could not have got as far as we have in the Northern Ireland peace process without the stout support of President Clinton.
"Last night I was working very closely with Madeleine Albright [US Secretary of State] trying to resolve the crisis in Kosovo. The US-UK partnership is critical to making that progress, and at this time we want to make sure that everyone understands that that partnership is alive and well."
Ms Short had to resign from Neil Kinnock's front bench as employment spokeswoman in 1988 and as social security spokeswoman in 1991 after flouting party policy on the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Gulf conflict.
Her campaign to ban Page 3 girls in The Sun in the mid-1980s turned her into a household name.
Of Irish Catholic descent, she also caused controversy for her nationalist sympathies on Northern Ireland.
In recent years she has angered New Labour party chiefs by suggesting that cannabis should be legalised and taxes raised for the better off.
She also attacked the "dark forces" surrounding Mr Blair in what was seen as criticism of the then Labour spin doctor Peter Mandelson.
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