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Quit before it gets nasty, Blair told

Tony Blair's troubles are set to worsen - and he should quit as prime minister before things get "ever nastier", former cabinet minister Clare Short has said.
Friday, 11 July, 2003, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK

Quit before it gets nasty, Blair told

Tony Blair's troubles are set to worsen - and he should quit as prime minister before things get "ever nastier", former cabinet minister Clare Short has said.

The ex-international development secretary - repeating a warning she made soon after leaving the government - said Mr Blair faced increased "muttering" among union leaders and was losing support among voters.

She said an "elegant handover" of the Labour leadership was in the party's interests.

Ms Short said the centralisation of power at Downing Street was behind a fall in the prime minister's popularity.

And, alongside her criticism of Mr Blair over Iraq, she also questioned the prime minister's handling of the debate over the single currency. "I think the best solution for Tony would be if he planned to move on before it gets ever nastier," she said.

The former minister said the prime minister had seen himself as "a kind of higher mortal than the rest of us" and had decided it was acceptable to "slightly fool" the public in making decisions over Iraq.

He had been guilty of "half-truths, slight deceptions, exaggeration" in the run-up to the war, she said.

Ms Short added: "I'm sure he's convinced that what he did was right but I'm also sure that he fooled the country in a series of ways in a way that's intolerable when it's a matter of war and peace and human beings' lives and the future of a country."

The comments come after another difficult week for the government with the continuing row over Iraq and a major backbench rebellion over foundation hospitals.

Ms Short said: "There's two good years until the next election. We'll see how this plays out. I think the best solution for Tony would be if he planned to move on before it gets ever nastier."

Damaged

Speaking in an interview for GMTV's Sunday Programme, to be broadcast this weekend, she went on: "There is lots and lots of muttering going on because the trade unions are very unhappy, that partner of ours, and of course the degree of trust in the country has gone down remarkably.


"Now we'll have to see what happens, but leaders tend to hang on and what we mustn't have in the Labour Party is a big nasty split.

"We've done that before and it's damaged us. We saw it happen to the Tory Party and it damaged them. We've got to find a way of handling this that doesn't sort of split us and make us unattractive to the electorate."

Ms Short denied she was plotting for Gordon Brown to take over as Labour leader, but said Mr Blair had caused a "great big division" with No 11 over the euro and was trying to take the UK into the single currency too soon.

Ms Short continued: "I think it would be in the interests of Tony Blair himself and his legacy of the Labour Party, and actually of the country, if he would think of making a voluntary departure and we could have an elegant handover and Labour could renew itself in power.

"And I don't mean it nastily. I mean, that is really what I think is in Tony's interest, the party's interest and the country's interest, that's just my opinion."

'Crummy'

Ms Short said there was a "kind of hubris" in Number 10, and she attacked the foundation hospital plans as an "absolute mess".

Proposals for student top-up fees were "outrageous" and "absolutely crummy" policy, she said.

On Iraq, she said the US was to blame for "disgracefully incompetent" lack of planning for the aftermath of the war in Iraq.

"It is a disaster and to suggest that it was (the fault of) the Department for International Development is a pathetic joke," she said.

"It is the Americans' fault but Tony did not use his leverage, did not listen to the advice from the attorney general about what was legal, did not insist that British people would only comply with the law and he failed to use any leverage to get it right."

She said the debate over the dossiers on Iraq's weapons should now move on to why the UN inspectors had not been given more time before military action.

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