Short blames government 'abuse of power' for David Kelly's death

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Indy Politics

Clare Short has blamed the death of Dr David Kelly on "an abuse of power" by the Government and warned that the tragedy has become a symbol of Prime Minister Tony Blair's "obsession with spin".

In an interview with The Independent, the former Secretary of State for International Development says the affair has made it more likely Mr Blair will stand down before the next general election. She describes him as an "emperor" and a "neo-Conservative", saying his speech this month to both houses of the US Congress shows he shares the analysis of Washington hardliners. "He is a complete convert to the neo-Conservative view of the world."

Recalling her 1996 attack on spin doctors "who live in the dark", she says: "I said spin would damage and destroy Tony. There is a danger the tragedy of this death encapsulates the argument [about spin] and then everyone sees it through that lens. Public confidence has changed enormously. It has deepened the sense there is something wrong in the way in which No 10 is run. There is more scrutiny of that, so that affects Tony Blair's reputation."

Ms Short says normal Whitehall procedures were breached in the way Dr Kelly was unmasked, triggering the events leading to his apparent suicide. She believes resignations should follow Lord Hutton's inquiry. "The truth needs to be found and those responsible need to be held to account. Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair work very, very closely together. They are all implicated, it seems to me."

Ms Short adds: "We all ended up mesmerised by Alastair Campbell attacking the BBC. In the course of that, Dr Kelly felt so pressured he felt the need to take his life. It has got enormous significance." But she hoped "some good" might yet come out of the tragedy, if the Government abandons spin and changes the way decisions are made.

But she warned it would be "very difficult" for Mr Blair to give up spin. She calls on him to stand down to ensure Labour "renews itself", saying this would be best for him, the Government, the Labour Party and the country. "He hasn't had an adverse period since becoming leader of the Labour Party. It has been an easy ride. Now it is going to be much more difficult. We will see how he enjoys it and copes with it and how long he wants to hang on."

Asked if she agrees that Gordon Brown has one year to replace Mr Blair because after that would be too close to the election, she says: "Crudely, yes." But she insists she is "not a Brownie" and would not automatically support the Chancellor in a Labour leadership election.

"The test for the Labour Party is: can we renew ourselves in power? The third election could be won; it could be lost, too. It can't just be everyone keeping quiet and supporting all the mistakes that are being made, otherwise we will throw away the third term.

"We must deal with Dr Kelly, and the abuse of power that helped drive him to his death. But we must also deal with the questions of how we went to war in Iraq and how much half-truth and deceit there was on the way."

Ms Short accuses Blair of lying about the position of Jacques Chirac, the French President, before the war. "Tony said to me, 'The French have said they will veto anything', so I was misled about the French position. We were all misled. Objectively, if things are not true, they are a lie."

She agrees Mr Blair did not set out "to tell a heap of lies" and "thought he was doing the right thing. I think he deceived himself and he deceived us".

Yesterday, Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture and Media, denied the Dr Kelly row will influence the Government's impending decision on the BBC's charter.