Clare Short causes outrage – again

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First she offended the gay community by meeting with a radical anti-gay Muslim group.

Now former cabinet minister Clare Short has angered the Labour government by saying the country would be better off with a hung parliament after the next election.

The government Chief Whip, Jacqui Smith, branded the maverick MP’s comments as unacceptable and hinted that she will be disciplined when Parliament returns next month.

Such was the anger amongst her colleagues that there were rumours that she could have the whip withdrawn.

However, as the MP for Birmingham Ladywood has not broken party rules, it would be difficult to expel her.

Her comments are a serious blow to Labour MPs worried about holding on to their seats at the next election, due to be held in 2009.

Ms Short announced in The Independent newspaper yesterday that she would resign as an MP at the next election, criticising “Blair’s craven support for the extremism of US neoconservative foreign policy.

“I have reached a stage where I am profoundly ashamed of the government,” she said.

“Blair 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 former international development secretary caused outrage last March after inviting Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group which the Prime Minister wishes to ban from Britain, to speak to MPs.

The group regularly preach anti-gay messages.

Ms Short quit her cabinet role in 2003 in protest at the Iraq war, but only after the main military action was over, unlike Robin Cook who made a principled departure from government before the invasion.

Her reputation as a voice of reason was destroyed by her delay in resigning, with Blair apparently pleading with her to stay.

Disciplining Short would be a symbol of Tony Blair’s attempt to regain control of the Labour Party amid internal rows over leadership and policy.

Ms Short has previously been supportive of gay rights, voting for the equalisation of the age of consent in 1999 and the Civil Partnership Bill in 2004. However, she was absent for votes on gay adoption and Section 28.