The conscience of the Blair cabinet is a leading exponent of globalisation with a human face. The leftist republican has become a benign imperialist. Just don't criticise her policy on Rwandaby Richard Dowden / May 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
Something peculiar is happening. The final victory of capitalism in the late 1980s should have meant the political death of Clare Short and those like her on the British left. Her blunt talk in flat Brummie tones represented the honest worker, exploited and crushed by the moneyed classes. In a parallel universe, she might have become minister for class war and local co-operatives in a government led by Dennis Skinner, but in this world she seemed more likely to end up in noisy, largely irrelevant opposition.
Instead, we are both sitting in an executive jet belonging to the Queen’s Flight flying at 29,000 feet towards Africa, discussing Short’s plans for international financial controls, stopping wars, globalisation, and the future of humanity. As secretary of state for international development, Short is one of the government’s leading thinkers on these subjects. We are drinking Pomeroy (“What’s it like?” she asks. “Well, it has royal approval, Ma’am,” replies the steward. “I like the Ma’am,” grins Short and takes a big gulp.)
She leans back in what we agree must be the Queen’s seat and puts her feet up on the table, making sure that she is not upsetting her secretary sitting opposite. Short is open and intimate: all her staff call her Clare. She starts to talk about her home in Ladywood, Birmingham, where she grew up. Birmingham people rarely travel but when they do they go far. Her mother, many of her six siblings and 60 or 70 cousins still live a stone’s throw from where her mother’s grandfather settled 150 years ago, fleeing the Irish famine. But the inspiration in her life was her father, a republican teacher from Crossmaglen, the notorious IRA hole-in-the-wall on the Northern Ireland border. His passion was politics and at his knee Short first heard the names Churchill, Attlee, Eisenhower, Khrushchev and Nkrumah.
Her mother now lives a couple of streets away from the family home where Short grew up. I cannot help but overhear her call to her mother shortly after we land. She apologises for not phoning her before leaving as she usually does. How many ministers call their mothers whenever they are off base for a day or two? A devout Catholic, her mother goes to church every day and Short still goes with her when she is at home, though she calls herself an “ethnic Catholic” rather than a rigorously believing…