Clare Short: I'm standing down so I can speak the truth

I am profoundly ashamed of the Government. The Labour Party has lost its way

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I have been thinking long and hard about whether to contest the next election as a Labour candidate and decided that I will not. For me it is a big decision. I have given my adult life to the Labour Party as the best way I could see of increasing social justice at home and abroad. I have enjoyed the 23 years' service to my constituents, my work in the House of Commons to resist the destructive policies of the Thatcher years, which hurt so many people. I served for 10 years on the National Executive Committee, working with Neil Kinnock and then John Smith, to ready the party for power. I was deeply honoured to serve as the Secretary of State for International Development which demonstrates how extra money, clarity of purpose and high morale can lead to excellence in public service, and to work with my officials to establish the new Department for International Development.

There are many good things that New Labour has done since 1997, mostly things Labour committed itself to before the New Labour coup, but I have reached a stage where I am profoundly ashamed of the Government. Blair's craven support for the extremism of US neoconservative foreign policy has exacerbated the danger of terrorism and the instability and suffering of the Middle East. He has dishonoured the UK, undermined the UN and international law and helped to make the world a more dangerous place. The erosion of the rule of law and civil liberties has weakened our democracy and increased Muslim alienation.

Gordon Brown's commitment to a replacement of Trident, in one throwaway sentence, is an insult to democracy. The approach of New Labour to public sector reform has demeaned the precious value of public services. And in addition to the arrogance and lack of principle of New Labour, there is an incredible incompetence. Policy is announced from Number 10 to grab media attention and nothing is properly thought through.

Cabinet government has gone, the House of Commons - with guillotines on all business - is weak and ineffective, and the rise of the third party means our electoral system is ever-more distorted. The vote in 2005 of 9.54 million was the second-lowest Labour vote in post-war Britain. With the support of only 22 per cent of the electorate, we see power more concentrated in a Number 10 that consults no one, engages in deceit over matters of profound importance and is not held to account by Cabinet, parliamentary party or the wider party. The Prime Minister's powers of patronage turn too many MPs into obedient ciphers who await the call to ministerial office or quiet elders who await the House of Lords.

The Labour Party has lost its way, our constitutional arrangements are broken and the gap between the political elite and the country grows ever wider. At the same time, Britain has become more unequal, violent and unhappy. And the world is in desperate trouble. The situation in the Middle East will get worse, and global warming threatens massive disruption.

There are answers to these enormous challenges, but not on the path we are on. To improve the quality of life in the UK, we need to look to the Scandinavian model. On foreign policy, we need to try to work with the EU and others so that the world is capable of reaching agreement to face the challenge of global warming, population growth and environmental strain.

Stay and fight, some argue. But there is no discussion of policy any more. The challenge to Blair and discussions of a new leadership are confined to personalities and all commit to continue the Blair errors.

My conclusion is that the key to the change we need is a hung parliament which will bring in electoral reform. Then we would have a second election. Labour - with existing levels of support - would have one-third of the seats in the Commons, the Tories something similar, and we would be likely to see some Greens and others added, creating a plurality of voices and power centres in the Commons. British politics would then change profoundly. Parliament, and in turn the people, would have to be listened to, Cabinet government would return, the error-prone arrogance of Number 10 would end, and we would have a chance of creating a new politics, a more civilised country and a more honourable role in the world.

The Chief Whip has warned me that I cannot recommend a hung parliament because it would mean Labour MPs losing their seats. I am standing down so that I can speak my truth and support the changes that are needed. Sad to say, it is now almost impossible to do this as a Labour MP.

The writer is Labour MP for Birmingham, Ladywood

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