The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi] Don't cry for Clare


Don't cry for Clare

 By George Monbiot

As Tony Blair's licensed rebel, Short appeased the powerful and brushed the
poor aside

Some readers would have shed a few tears at the departure of our development
secretary. Clare Short may have failed, in March, to act upon her threat to
resign over the war with Iraq. But even those who have turned against her
will miss that splash of colour on the front benches, the old Labour warrior
who still spoke the language of feeling, and who, as if by magic, had
somehow survived the control freaks and the little grey men for six vivid
and tumultuous years. Westminster will be a bleaker and a colder place
without her.

Well, dry your eyes. Clare Short survived because she was useful. She was as
much a creature of the control freaks as any of the weaker members of the
frontbench. To understand her role in government is to begin to understand
the nature of our post-oppositional, postmodern political system. Short was
a licensed rebel. She was permitted, to a greater degree than any other
minister, to speak her mind about the business of other departments. She was
able to do so because she presented no threat to them or to Blair's core
political programme. Within her own department, where her decisions made a
real impact on people's lives, she was more Blairite than Blair. She would
emote with the wretched of the earth for the cameras, then crush them
quietly with a departmental memo.

She was useful to the government because she behaved like someone guided by
impulse rather than calculation. As a result, she permitted it to suggest
that it remained a broad church, and the prime minister a broad-shouldered
man. Her outbursts allowed the control freaks to pretend that they were not
control freaks. We have, in other words, been sold Short. Blair told us she
had integrity, and, correctly interpreting her role, she acted as if she
did. But she knew precisely where the limits lay, and when that "integrity"
needed to be jettisoned. Her authenticity was prescribed. As a result she
was, in some respects, a more dangerous figure than visibly ruthless
ministers such as Alan Milburn or John Reid.

If you think this sounds harsh, you should examine her record. Clare Short's
approach to overseas development was more authoritarian than that of her
Tory predecessor, Lynda Chalker. "Who represents the people of the world?"
she asked the BBC World Service in November 2001. "It's the governments who
come from civil societies. Having lots of NGOs squawking all over the place
won't help. They don't speak for the poor, the governments do." Her deputy,
Hilary Benn, repeated the sentiment: "The future is a matter of political
will and choice, and only governments have both the legitimacy and the
opportunity to exercise that will."

There is, in other words, no such thing as society, unrepresented by
government. The people's organisations that seek to question governmental
decisions - the trade unions, peasant syndicates, associations of shanty
dwellers or indigenous people - are an irrelevant nuisance, the surly and
recalcitrant natives who cannot interpret their own best interests. If a
government, however corrupt and unrepresentative it may be, says it wants a
particular kind of development, then the people are deemed to want it too.
Throughout her tenure, delegations of squawking NGOs came from the poor
world to beg Clare Short not to destroy their lives. They were often brushed
aside with a ruthlessness that made Peter Mandelson look like Bagpuss the

Last year, a group of peasant farmers from the Indian state of Andhra
Pradesh travelled to Britain to ask the department for international
development not to fund the state government's Vision 2020 programme. Its
purpose was to replace small-scale farming with agro-industry. While a few
very wealthy farmers, seed and chemical companies, some of them closely
connected to the government, would make a great deal of money from the
scheme, some 20 million people would be thrown out of work. A leaked memo
from Short's own department revealed that the project suffered from "major
failings", threatened the food security of the poor, and offered no plans
for "providing alternative income for those displaced".

A citizens' jury drawn from the social groups that the scheme is supposed to
help rejected it unanimously. Yet Short ignored their concerns and
instructed her department to give the state government 65m. In 2000, a
group of Bagyeli pygmies from Cameroon came to Britain to alert the
department to the dangers associated with the oil pipeline the companies
Exxon and Chevron were planning to build through their land. The World Bank
was preparing to help the oil companies to pay for it, and Clare Short was
intending to provide some of the money the World Bank would use. The Bagyeli
claimed that their land would be seized by incomers, that they would be
attacked by the pipeline workers, exposed to new diseases and denied their
hunting and gathering rights.

Clare Short intervened personally to ensure that the pipeline was built.
"Britain," she claimed, "will use its influence to insist that all
appropriate controls are in place and that they are implemented rigorously."
The pipeline is now being constructed, with the department's money, and
everything the Bagyeli predicted has come to pass. They are suffering from
epidemics of Aids, malaria and bronchitis, brought in by the workers. They
have lost much of their land and are rapidly losing their forests. When, at
the end of last year, a pressure group called the Forest People's Programme
reminded Clare Short of the promises she had made, she responded that such
campaigners were "opposed to the interests of people in developing
 countries", by which, of course, she meant the governments. She also
championed the Chinese government's plan to move 60,000 Han farmers into the
predominantly Tibetan region of western Qinghai. The World Bank's own
inspection panel found that the project would be catastrophic for the
indigenous people: it offended the bank's guidelines on consultation, the
protection of ethnic minorities and the defence of the environment; but
Short, as a director, continued to argue that the bank should help the
Chinese government to fund it. To facilitate such projects, Clare Short has
pressed for the weakening of the World Bank's guidelines - for which people'
s movements in the poor world have fought so hard - which prevent it from
funding schemes that force tens of thousands from their homes, trash the
environment and enrich only the elites. In future, her department has
suggested, the bank should give its money to governments with fewer strings

There was, in other words, no conflict between Short's work and that of the
government as a whole. The central project of Blair's foreign policy is the
appeasement of the powerful. Clare Short ensured that this principle
informed the business of her department. She was forced to resign yesterday
not because she had rebelled, but because she had destroyed her credibility
as a rebel. Having squandered her old Labour credentials, she was of no
further use to the New Labour government. Goodbye Clare Short, and good

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]