PM must answer to House on Short claims, says Kennedy

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Tony Blair will be under pressure this week to tell Parliament whether it is true that British agents bugged the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, will press for a Commons statement on the allegations raised last week by the former Cabinet minister, Clare Short.

She risks having her turbulent career as an MP brought to an end by party colleagues enraged by what they see as a one-woman campaign to bring down the Prime Minister.

But for other politicians, the issue was not Miss Short's motives for speaking out, but whether her extraordinary claims were true. Mr Kennedy said that Mr Blair's refusal to give a straight answer to this question will leave a lingering suspicion that Britain was using underhand methods to coerce the United Nations into backing a war with Iraq.

Writing in The Independent on Sunday, he added that Mr Blair had been willing to publish intelligence material when it helped him argue the case for war.

"Having made a virtue of revealing intelligence material when it suited him, he now refuses to answer a straightforward question. This smacks of double standards," he claimed.

"There can be no question here of risking the lives of our intelligence gatherers. I struggle with the image of Kofi Annan and his band of desperadoes thirsting for revenge."

Meanwhile, a member of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee has suggested to the IoS that there is sufficient resentment of Ms Short ­ particularly around the West Midlands where her Birmingham Ladywood seat is situated ­ to put her political future at risk.

She has refused to back down after being accused of being "irresponsible" by the Prime Minister. "The best way to correct mistakes is to persuade Tony Blair to stand down," she wrote in yesterday's Independent.

Michael Cashman, a former actor and now a Labour MEP for the West Midlands, said: "As one of the elected representatives of her region, I am increasingly furious about Clare's choice of the media to inform her party about what she alleges has occurred. As a member of the NEC, all I can point out is that it's up to any member of the party to bring a complaint and it's up to the NEC to hear that complaint."

The NEC would have the power to end Ms Short's parliamentary career by barring her from standing as a Labour candidate at the next election. But leading party figures have made it clear that any such move would have to begin by pressure from below rather than a diktat from the centre.

This was underlined by the party chairman, Ian McCartney, who yesterday condemned her behaviour as "outrageous and unforgivable" but added he was not "going to make her a martyr" by initiating moves to have her expelled from the party.

Another former colleague, Mike O'Brien, a Trade minister, accused her of making "reckless" allegations. Speaking on Radio Four,he said: "She is indulging in what seem to be a whole series of personal attacks on the Prime Minister which are just damaging."

A Government whip said yesterday that it was still "a matter of debate" whether they would take action. He said: "Some of the people who are angriest are the party activists who have to knock on doors asking people to vote Labour."

Downing Street insisted that Mr Blair himself is "not leading the charge" to bring down Ms Short, but one of his closest advisers compared her yesterday with the Glasgow Kelvin MP, George Galloway, who was expelled from the Labour Party for likening Tony Blair and George Bush to wolves. He said: "Eventually something will have to happen, because she is becoming perilously close to the George Galloway position."