Short hits out at expulsion 'threats'

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Clare Short hit out at the threats against her for "speaking the truth" about Tony Blair over the war on Iraq as she faced the possibility of expulsion from the Labour Party.

Labour's national executive committee yesterday kicked the issue of her expulsion into the long grass to avoid creating a martyr of the veteran Labour MP on the eve of the party's conference in Manchester.

But in a letter to Peter Watt, the general secretary, Ms Short angrily hit out at the Labour leadership for attempting to "muzzle" her by threatening to expel the former Cabinet minister from the party to which she has belonged for over a quarter of a century.

Mr Watt wrote to Ms Short demanding an explanation for her call in an article last week in The Independent for a hung Parliament, which implied the loss of seats by Labour MPs.

She replied saying his letter was "the latest in a series of threats that have been made to me since I resigned from the Government over the Iraq war and its aftermath".

She said: "The threat to MPs in marginal seats is a result of the performance of the Government and not my advocacy of electoral reform." Ms Short said the efforts to stop her criticising Mr Blair were intended to prevent her from speaking "about the disastrous errors over Iraq and the seriousness of the deceit the Prime Minister had engaged in".

"I do not agree that my speeches and writing are detrimental to the Labour Party," she said. "They are critical of the Government which is in my view dishonouring the Labour Party and undermining its electoral support," she said.

The chief whip, Jacquie Smith made it clear she wanted disciplinary action, and party chairman, Hazel Blears, has warned that Ms Short's call for a hung Parliament was "very serious indeed". But yesterday Sir Jeremy Beecham, the chairman of the NEC, said the issue had been referred to a committee of MPs.An official said: "It's been kicked into the long grass."

* The NEC is banning cakes from its meetings as part of the cost-saving measures to tackle a £29m debt. Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the NEC, said: "I had a strawberry tart, and there were chocolate eclairs but they are the last cakes at the NEC. He said the party's current account would be in a small surplus next year, and that the party was cutting its costs by selling its headquarters in London.but the NEC was relieved to hear that they will avoid compulsory redundancies for their staff, which would have led to protests at next week's party conference.