Short was born in Birmingham, UK, on 15 February 1946, to Irish Catholic parents. Aged 17, she gave birth to a son, who was given up for adoption; and aged 18 she married a fellow student, Andrew Moss. After studying political science at Leeds and Keele universities, she worked as a civil servant in the Home Office. In 1981, she got married again, to Alex Lyon (who died in 1993). In 1983, she was elected Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood. She is said to have gained some early notoriety, soon after the election, when she implied Alan Clark, the government’s employment minister, was drunk at the despatch box. And, in 1986 she gained attention for campaigning against photographs of topless models in British tabloid newspapers.
Short rose through the ranks of the Labour front bench, despite twice resigning (over the prevention of terrorism act, and over the Gulf war in 1990). From 1993 to the general election in 1997, Short held a variety of posts: Shadow Minister for Women, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Opposition spokesperson on Overseas Development. She was a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) from 1988 to 1997 and Chair of the NEC Women’s Committee from 1993 to 1996. In 1996, Short discovered her adopted son, Toby, was working as a solicitor in London, and had three children.
After the 1997 election that brought Labour into power, the new Prime Minister Tony Blair created the Department for International Development, with Short as a cabinet-level Secretary of State. She retained this post through to the 2001 UK general election, and into the second Blair-led Labour government. In 2003, though, she threatened to resign from the cabinet should the government go to war with Iraq, but was persuaded by Blair to remain and back the war. Nevertheless, she resigned in May that year. Subsequently, in early 2004, she was involved in a controversy when she claimed the British security services were intercepting UN communication, including those of Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General. And later, in 2004, Free Press (Simon & Schuster) published her autobiographical book on New Labour, including a detailed analysis of the run-up to war with Iraq: An Honourable Deception?: New Labour, Iraq, and the Misuse of Power.
Short announced in 2006 she would not be standing at the next general election, and she also resigned the Labour whip, saying she was ‘ashamed’ of Tony Blair’s government. In 2011, she expressed interest in becoming a candidate for Birmingham mayor, but the idea of a mayoralty for the city was rejected in a referendum. In 2009, The Daily Telegraph exposed irregularities in her claims for expenses - by 2009, it is said, she had claimed and received over £65,000 in expenses above her salary.
According to her own website, Short is now active in various organisations ‘working on slum upgrading in the developing world, transparency in oil, gas and mining, African-led humanitarian action, destitute asylum-seekers in Birmingham, Trade Justice for the developing world and for a just settlement of the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict.’ Furthermore, she ‘is a trustee of Hope Projects (West Midlands) Ltd, Trade Out of Poverty, the Welfare Association, and Africa Humanitarian Action; and patron of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions UK’. In March 2011 she was elected Chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Further information can also be found at Wikipedia.
In her book - An Honourable Deception?: New Labour, Iraq, and the Misuse of Power - Short relies heavily on quotations from her diaries to show or prove her opinions and state of mind at different points in time. The opening paragraph of the book reads as follows:
1 July 2002
‘TB said in ’97, no one must think ‘we are masters now’. We must focus on our duty to serve - or something similar. The reality of his behaviour is ‘I am master now’. There is a complete arrogance in the way he runs the government and No. 10. My experience of it recently in his effort to press us to misuse and to get asylum seekers returned to their countries is a minor example but very much the style of his government.’
19 September 2002
‘Was feeling very, very irritated with TB and that he and US were determined on war at any price. Asked to see V + [Vauxhall Cross - headquarters of SIS] and told not allowed. Even more irritated. Made a fuss then got briefing. V+ said SH had masses chem and biol dispersed across country. Nuclear not imminent but would get. Military option target elite - no repeat Gulf war + big humanitarian effort.’
‘In September 2002 we had a long and full discussion on Iraq at Cabinet. Tony Blair asked to see me before the meeting. He asked if I had seen SIS and said, as my diary records: “He said he didn’t want to lose me, but couldn’t give me a veto. I had done an interview for GMTV on Sunday stressing UN, no repeat of Gulf war and hurt to Iraqi people. Need for progress on Palestine and Kashmir. Big stress on keeping to UN route. No complaint from TB. I briefly reiterated my points.”
The Cabinet discussion was full and open. Once again my diary entry summarised:
“Cabinet discussion good. Big beasts lined up to support - JP - GB - JS - DB. JP said something like must all stick together but didn’t disagree with me. GB stressed UN but brief. DB a muddled contribution M Beckett came in with, not against. Then I did teaching on the just war etc. Alan Milburn and Estelle Morris and others then spoke v openly re why now? Why him? What about the Palestinians? Palestinians came up repeatedly and UN. V Good discussion. I think it influenced TB statement to Parliament, less belligerent and more UN.” ’
7 March 2003
‘Had a couple of days feeling gloomy and sleepless nights writing my resignation statement in my head. It seemed they were into military action whatever Blix said, we are arm-twisting Security Council non-permanent members and don’t seem to care that they can’t reconstruct the country without a UN mandate.’
23 March 2003
‘. . . terrible week - decided to stay in the Gov - horrendous media and bitter disappointment to all who were buoyed by my threat to resign.’
7 April 2003
‘Atmospherics in No. 10 hostile to me, maybe not stay long in government after all.’