Colleagues expect 'semi-detached' Short to be replaced in reshuffle

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Indy Politics

Clare Short's days as a cabinet minister looked numbered yesterday when she appeared to accept she would lose her job as International Development Secretary.

Clare Short's days as a cabinet minister looked numbered yesterday when she appeared to accept she would lose her job as International Development Secretary.

Fellow ministers described her as "semi-detached" after she failed to turn up for Wednesday's crucial Commons vote on foundation hospitals. She then missed the Cabinet's weekly meeting on Thursday. Allies insisted that she intended to vote in favour of the Bill.

Her behaviour is seen by other ministers as a sign that she will resign or be sacked when Tony Blair reshuffles his front bench shortly. The changes are expected to be delayed until after Gordon Brown delivers his verdict on the single currency in the next few weeks.

Ms Short's position in the Cabinet has been in jeopardy since she infuriated Mr Blair by attacking his strategy on Iraq as "reckless" but then dismayed Labour opponents of the war by dropping her threat to resign. One Blair aide said yesterday: "She has given up. She has shot herself in the foot. No one else has shot her." Another minister said: "It wouldn't surprise me if she had already told the Prime Minister she did not want to go on."

Ms Short's friends refused to speculate on her intentions. One dismissed the row as "a reflection that the climate is a bit hostile towards her".

Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "Clare Short explained the reason that she didn't vote on Wednesday night was that she got the time wrong, which indicates that she was going to vote at 10pm."

He said the reason she missed the vote – held at the usual time for a Wednesday of 7pm – was not because she disagreed with the proposed foundation hospitals.

"This is the agreed and settled policy of the whole Government, supported by the whole Government and the most important thing about what happened on Wednesday was that this vote was carried and we are pressing ahead with the policy of devolving power to the front line of the health service." The spokes-man also said Ms Short informed Downing Street in advance that she would not attend the cabinet session because she had departmental business to attend to, including meeting the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda.

The spokesman said: "It's not the first ... and I'm sure it won't be the last time that a member of the Cabinet has not been able to attend. We are fairly grown up about these things. The Prime Minister doesn't take a register and collect the milk money."

Mr Blair and Ms Short have not spoken about her failure to vote on Wednesday.

Ms Short originally threatened to resign on 9 March, in an interview on BBC Radio 4, if Tony Blair took Britain to war without United Nations approval. She made her comments without telling No 10 first. Ms Short dropped her threat a week later, after her cabinet colleague, Robin Cook, resigned. She said it would be cowardly to resign then.

But she further aroused the ire of her critics last month at a press briefing when she said that the "death of a human being" was not a "price worth paying" for the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

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