PM obsessed with place in history, says ex-minister

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Clare Short launched a withering attack on Tony Blair's "presidential" style when she resigned from the Cabinet yesterday and threatened to lead a backbench mutiny against him.

Clare Short launched a withering attack on Tony Blair's "presidential" style when she resigned from the Cabinet yesterday and threatened to lead a backbench mutiny against him.

Ms Short resigned as Secretary of State for International Development on the ground that the Prime Minister had broken his promises to her by backing US proposals to give the United Nations "only a minor role" in post-war Iraq.

And she widened her criticism into a personal attack on Mr Blair when she made an 11-minute resignation statement in the Commons. She bluntly warned the Prime Minister he was "in danger of destroying his legacy as he becomes increasingly obsessed by his place in history".

Ms Short said that Labour's first term was marked by "a control-freak style", which created excessive bureaucracy and centralised targets that were undermining the Government's public-sector reforms.

"In the second term, the problem is centralisation of power into the hands of the Prime Minister and an increasingly small number of advisers who make decisions in private without proper discussion," she said. The result was "increasingly poor policy initiatives being rammed through Parliament, straining and abusing party loyalty". She added: "We have the powers of a presidential-type system with the automatic majority of a parliamentary system." In a call to arms that echoed the resignation statement of Geoffrey Howe, which led to Margaret Thatcher's downfall, Ms Short said Labour MPs "must work together to prevent our Government departing from the best values of the party".

During a series of media interviews, Ms Short revealed that she opposed foundation hospitals and vowed to use her position on the back benches to "speak up for the truth" and "stop the Government from making errors".

Her Commons speech was heard in virtual silence, in contrast to the warm response that greeted the valedictory statement of Robin Cook, who resigned before the war. Ministers and MPs were surprised that she had launched such a vitriolic attack, and most agreed that she had gone "over the top". Cabinet loyalists insisted that they did not recognise her description of Mr Blair's style. Privately, they were relieved that she had not carried out her threat to resign before the war, a decision that damaged her credibility among Labour MPs.

However, Blairites were worried that her scathing criticism would reignite the debate over his leadership style and public-sector reforms at a difficult time. Mr Blair has suffered a series of backbench revolts over Iraq, foundation hospitals and the fire dispute in recent weeks, and his Cabinet is openly split over the euro. As the mood at Westminster becomes more rebellious, Ms Short could form part of an influential group of critical former cabinet ministers including Mr Cook, Chris Smith and Frank Dobson.

Ms Short took Mr Blair by surprise by telephoning him just after 10am yesterday to tell him she was resigning. In an attempt to play down the impact, Downing Street announced just 25 minutes later that she would be succeeded by the Foreign Office minister Baroness Amos, who becomes Britain's first black female cabinet minister. It is believed that Mr Blair had already decided to sack Ms Short when he reshuffled his Cabinet in the next few weeks.

She disclosed that she had offered her resignation to the Prime Minister on a number of occasions during the run-up to the war Iraq but was persuaded to stay. In the Commons, Ms Short said she was ashamed Britain had backed a draft UN resolution on the running of Iraq which, she said, had been drawn up in "secrecy" and without consulting Whitehall departments including her own.

She said Britain and the US were trying to bully the Security Council into accepting a resolution giving the Allies the power to establish an Iraqi government and control the use of oil for reconstruction. "The only body that has the legal authority to do this is the UN Security Council," she said.

Replying to her resignation letter, Mr Blair praised her for doing "an excellent job" at her department but added: "I am afraid I do not understand your point about the UN."

He said the agreement on a draft resolution tabled by America, Britain and Spain had "scarcely been a secret", saying: "I have always been clear that it is not a matter of the UN leading or the coalition leading. The two should work together. That is exactly what the resolution stipulates."

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, said he regretted Ms Short's attack on the Prime Minister. "Tony Blair's a strong leader but he also works with colleagues, looking at how their departments are operating to make sure that the departments work successfully together and make sure as well that there are collective discussions in Cabinet."

Michael Howard, the shadow Chancellor, said the manner of Ms Short's departure showed the Government was "split from top to bottom" over issues including Iraq, foundation hospitals and the euro.

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