Short's forthright views may save her Cabinet career

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The question of whether Clare Short can stand the heat of the political kitchen was posed yesterday after she attacked unnamed Whitehall colleagues who "dumped" on her last week.

She said: "There comes a time in politics when you think, `Gosh, if I have to live with this much bile and dishonesty, there's a limit to my capacity to take it'."

The further outspoken onslaught by the Secretary of State for International Development against "vile and dishonest" spin doctors is not expected to bring imminent retribution from the Prime Minister.

Tony Blair said in a Sunday newspaper yesterday that he did not find it easy to shuffle his team. "The hardest thing in politics is always dealing with people you know and like when you have to make changes," he said.

There was some speculation yesterday that the latest interview by the Ms Short could result in her being sacked in a reshuffle.

But a senior colleague of Mr Blair's said yesterday that he was "relaxed" about the interview with Ms Short in the Independent on Sunday, in which she said that parts of the Foreign Office had used the row over Montserrat to destroy her new department.

Ms Short was particularly upset by the Whitehall "spin" that she had been snubbed with a decision to put the Foreign Office in charge of Montserrat.

"Heavy briefing suggested that the Foreign Office was taking on a new duty to co-ordinate. That was simply untrue," she told the Independent on Sunday.

"Then this `snub to me' briefing which must have been spin-doctored because it was in every single [news] outlet. Lots of fairly vitriolic stuff."

Pinning the blame on either Number 10 or the Foreign Office, or both, she said: "It is a further immersion in the black art of spin-doctoring. I've seen it before, but never quite as vile and dishonest as this."

The Prime Minister recognises that Ms Short is popular because she speaks her mind- showing that it is possible to be a leading politician without being a cynical fixer. It is unlikely, therefore, that he would sack her for expressing forthright views.

However, there is some concern among Ms Short's friends that she might be tempted to give up the struggle, not only because of the political in-fighting of Whitehall but also because of the intense media spotlight that has been put on her personal life; attention which she finds most depressing. Anthony Bevins