Is politics a career for your daughter? into politics'

John Prescott offers his support, but Clare Short, demoted and disillusioned, attacks the 'dishonesty' of men in politics

John Rentoul
Friday 26 July 1996 23:02

Clare Short, demoted to Labour spokeswoman on overseas development, was at her challenging best again yesterday. Would anyone let their daughters go into politics, she asked.

Ms Short launched an attack on the "manoeuvres and dishonesty" of men in politics after she had been shuffled downward in Tony Blair's new Shadow Cabinet. She said she had thought politics was "the highest level of public service". But now, "if I had a daughter, I would advise her not to go into politics. It is just too nasty and hurtful".

In response to criticism from Mr Blair that speaking her mind could cost Labour votes, she added: "I have always thought it important to stand up for what is right and to speak the truth. These things are of value - win or lose."

Ms Short's opinions about daughters appeared to be shared by Jack Cunningham, Labour spokesman for National Heritage. He said he had already advised his two daughters not to go into politics: "Politics is often tough and difficult, we know that, and sometimes it is nasty."

However, Tessa Jowell, Labour's spokeswoman for women, who has a 15- year-old daughter, took a different view. "If she did decide to go into politics I would encourage her," she said. "How could I not after I've campaigned so much to have women in Parliament?"

Sir David Mitchell, the Conservative MP for Hampshire North West who has a 37-year-old married daughter, believes politics ought not to be treated as a career. "People who go into politics should have a calling. This sense of purpose overrides the disappointments. If my daughter had wanted to go into politics, I would have made sure she realised this," he said.

Sir David's son, Social Security Minister, Andrew Mitchell, said if any of his young daughters went into politics, he would make sure they got a balanced view. "I would seek to persuade her that politics is an honourable profession and then send her off to see Clare for her advice. Clare says what she thinks and doesn't talk in New Labour soundbites, which are all about what the electorate want to hear. We need more people like her in the House."

Ms Short could not be contacted yesterday. A message on her answering machine in Birmingham said: "You ought to know that I'm not interested in doing any interviews."

John Prescott, deputy Labour leader, offered his support to her, making a point of saying that in her new job she would still be "dealing with a programme of getting people back to work".

Ms Short was appointed to a place on a new committee on "welfare to work" policies, chaired by Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor.

Paul Flynn, the dissident shadow Cabinet candidate who polled 61 votes, said she had been "abominably treated".

In her Daily Express guest column, mostly written before her demotion but topped up after a painful interview with Mr Blair on Wednesday night, Ms Short attacked the "vanity and ego" of political men.

Meanwhile, Mr Blair is expected to show a similar ruthlessness in a reshuffle of his junior ranks over the weekend. Westminster speculation focused on the possibility that Tessa Jowell will be promoted to the number two job in health, with her place as shadow minister for women taken by Janet Anderson, a whip who has impressed Mr Blair by outsmarting the Government with her private Bill against stalking.

Others tipped for promotion include: Peter Hain, the Eurosceptic left- winger domesti- cated by eight months' service in the whips office; Glenda Jackson, a back-bench campaigner on transport issues; and Kevin Hughes, the quietly loyal MP for Doncaster North.

The reshuffle is expected to reward the combination of campaigning skill and discretion in the service of New Labour, regardless of length of service.

'...yes, it's wonderful'

Jilly Cooper, novelist: "I don't think my daughter will go in to politics, but if she did I'd do everything to encourage her."

Michael Winner, film director: "I'd tell her it wasn't a very good idea ... I've always said that there is only one profession worse than the stage and that's politics."

Joan Lestor, Labour MP for Eccles, (daughter in her late 20s):"If she had wanted to go into politics I would have encouraged her all the way. In any occupation you meet nasty people and in Parliament you have some wonderful experiences."

Peter Thurnham, independent Tory MP for Bolton North East, (three daughters in their late 20s and early 30s): "I would certainly be encouraging. But I think they would be put off after they've seen how much time I put in."

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