Labour whips turned me into a pariah, says Short

MP says she and her colleagues were subject to constant threats from 'ruthless' whips, who crushed dissent in the Labour Party
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Indy Politics

Clare Short has described how "the elastic snapped" after repeated threats by the Labour whips' office, attempting to stop her speaking out on issues she felt passionately about, turned her into a "pariah".

The former cabinet minister, writing in The Independent on Sunday, has issued a damning critique of the Government, claiming that Gordon Brown was "increasingly diminished" and was "forced to say he supported all that [Tony] Blair had done".

In an excoriating attack, the MP for Birmingham Ladywood, who resigned the Labour whip on Friday, said: "This is not a Labour government." She described the asylum system as "a mixture of cruelty and incompetence" and said the Government's "endless reorganisation of health and education were undermining much of the good the extra money was doing".

The former international development secretary added that the party's policy on criminal justice "was dictated by the tabloids", adding that the rhetoric on the war on terror was "inane" and "the policies exacerbated the problem".

Ms Short, who will sit as an independent MP in Parliament, has not resigned her Labour Party membership. She has resisted attempts by the Lib Dems to persuade her to defect.

Sir Menzies Campbell despatched his chief of staff, Norman Lamb MP, to talk to Ms Short and the two were spotted holding discussions last week.

In her article in today's paper, Ms Short describes how the threats from the Labour whips' office began years ago.

"Hilary Armstrong [the former chief whip] made threats. She said I must not say that we were spying on Kofi Annan, or that Tony had deceived the country by taking it into war. Because I would not agree, I became a pariah," she writes

She said that she had recently received a letter from the whips' office stating she should not say that the next election would probably produce a hung parliament.

Ms Short accuses the Labour whips of being "ruthless" and of crushing the spirit of the Parliamentary Labour Party. In a very damaging critique, she says that although the party did "reasonably well" during its first three years in office, the "rot set in" during Labour's second term. She describes how she became increasingly disaffected with Labour, even as a member of the Cabinet. Her intervention, after serving at the highest level of government for many years, will annoy Labour's high command.

Ms Short entered Parliament in 1983 and has been a prominent figure in the Labour Party for more than 20 years. Always an outspoken figure, she came into the public eye after campaigning against page-three girls in The Sun and introducing a Bill to ban them. She resigned from the Cabinet in May 2003 after expressing open criticism of the Government's policy on Iraq.

Ms Short surprised Westminster in 1996 when she was reunited with her long-lost son Toby, who was born when she was 18 and then given up for adoption.

She discloses that she considered not fighting the last election after a run-in with the whips, but decided to continue in the hope that the party would assert itself. The former cabinet minister says she was disappointed that "there was no fight back".

Ms Short makes it clear she will not fight the next election as an independent, saying that she plans to "use my last couple of years [in Parliament] to speak freely and accept invitations to speak outside without the whips' permission".

"There is no point in being in public life if you are not allowed to speak," she says. "Many of my constituents have spent the weekend telling me I should not go, but when I say I will be there until the next election they are more content."