Perhaps Ms Clare Short’s timing is not as bad as some of her colleagues are making it out to be. Ms Short has resigned from Mr Tony Blair’s government a couple of days ago. She was almost going to just before the Iraq war, but was persuaded to stay on by the prime minister. Mr Robin Cook had then stolen her thunder by actually resigning as leader of the Commons. Then, in the aftermath of the war, dissent within the Labour Party seemed to be mellowing somewhat, when Ms Short’s resignation reminded Mr Blair that housekeeping is indeed an endless chore. The belatedness of Ms Short’s protest should, by no means, deflect attention from what she is saying. Her terminal disappointment with Mr Blair goes well beyond her objection to his Iraq policy, in order to become a broader assault on the government itself. Her primary disapproval is of the draft resolution which Britain and the United States of America are now promoting at the United Nations. Ms Short clearly feels that Mr Blair has broken his promise to her about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government. She had criticized the run-up to the war, and now finds its aftermath offensive beyond compromise. But what offends her is considerably more than the UN issue or even Mr Blair’s American commitments. She feels that the values of her party and, indeed, the very basis of a parliamentary democracy have been undermined by the stifling of debate, scrutiny and accountability in the Blair government. There has been a centralization of power around the prime minister and a few advisers, and this increasingly presidential style of governance has led to indefensible modes of decision-making.
Ms Short had once talked about the “two Tonies” — the nice one and the nasty one. She now thinks that he is more a figleaf than a poodle: poodles get off their lead and jump about, whereas figleaves “just about stay where they are”. Therefore it is time he starts preparing for an “elegant succession”. These memorable images of Mr Blair’s relationship with the US come from a woman who had turned the department of international development, of which she was the secretary, into a much-respected overseas aid organization — one of the notable achievements of New Labour. She has also resigned twice before — once, in 1988, for being bullied over the prevention of terrorism act, and then in 1991, over the Kuwait war having “nothing to do with the liberation of Kuwait”. Mr Blair will be refusing to engage seriously with the substance of her gesture at his own peril.