Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Don't cry for Clare

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

George Monbiot
The Guardian
13 May 2003

Some of the Guardian's readers will, for all her faults,
have shed a few tears at the departure of our development

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

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 cat.

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 attached.

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

· www.monbiot.com

1 comment:

chandan said...

quite lot of explanation is in the pic i can say