Short urges Brown to make his move before election

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Clare Short has urged Gordon Brown to try to topple Tony Blair before the next general election and warned that his reluctance to strike is harming his prospects of becoming Prime Minister.

Clare Short has urged Gordon Brown to try to topple Tony Blair before the next general election and warned that his reluctance to strike is harming his prospects of becoming Prime Minister.

In an interview with GMTV's Sunday Programme to be screened this weekend, the former cabinet minister says: "I think lots of people are waiting for Gordon to make his move, and if he can't or won't, that sort of diminishes him as the alternative. But I understand he's on a tightrope. It's a very difficult position."

Her comments will reignite tensions between the Blair and Brown camps, with Blairites suspecting that she has been encouraged to speak out by supporters of the Chancellor. When she was the International Development Secretary, Ms Short was a close ally of Mr Brown. But she insists she was "never a Brownie or a Blairie".

In the interview, she denies being part of any "conspiracy" to oust Mr Blair. But, referring to the Iraq war, she says: "It's just that I think what's happened is so serious that we need a change, and Gordon sits there as ... credible and capable." She claims "a very high number" of Labour MPs are "very troubled by all of this".

She describes Mr Blair's declaration that he wants to serve a full third term as "extraordinary", doubts that he will achieve it and believes it is still possible that he will be forced out over Iraq before the next election. "I would love a change of leader, so that Labour could face the truth, correct the mistake," she says.

Warning that Iraq will be "a kind of wound that everyone keeps picking at", she says: "I think the only way to sort this out, and to face up to the historical record, is for Tony Blair to step aside."

Although the election is expected next May, she points out that it could be delayed until 2006. She says: "Something could happen that even meant there was a change of leader before the election, because although the target date is May next year, the outer date ... it has to be called before June 2006. There's actually quite a lot of time."

Ms Short says the election could result in a hung parliament despite opinion polls suggesting that Labour is heading for victory. She warns that the bias towards Labour in the electoral system produces "distorted majorities in the House of Commons".

Accusing Mr Blair of running "an elective dictatorship", she says the Cabinet could have stopped him taking Britain to war in Iraq by standing up to him. "I think he made his mind up very early, decided that was the right thing to do, and then engaged in a whole series of half-truths and deceptions to get the country to war," she says.

She hopes that George Bush is defeated in next month's US presidential election, saying that if he remains in power, the world faces "decades of trouble, and horrible bloodshed and suffering, until we get change".

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