The Westminster pack has the scent of its favourite prey again
By Germaine Greer
(Filed: 18/05/2003)

On the Thursday before Clare Short delivered her resignation speech in
the House of Commons, she was absent from the meeting of the Cabinet.
Ever boyish, Tony Blair, registering her absence, is reported to have
circled his finger beside his head, implying that his esteemed colleague
was a crackpot. Short was thus officially consigned to the company of
batty females with Margaret Thatcher and Mo Mowlam, who were both
entrusted with high office only to be later reviled as crazy.

It was nowhere suggested in the commentary on Clare Short's resignation
that struggling to do a decent job while being alternately hoodwinked,
massaged and knifed in the back by Tony's cronies would drive any woman
insane. Aha, no. Clare Short had apparently been a loose cannon all
along. Curiously, this universal conclusion did not involve any
reflection on the Prime Minister's judgment. The parliamentary press
corps simply let rip all their covert fear and loathing of older women,
just as they did in the case of Thatcher and Mowlam.

Any woman watching Clare Short's resignation speech in the House of
Commons would have known that she was observing a desperate attempt by
an exhausted woman to get said what she needed to say, after years of
having to display loyalty to men who offered no loyalty to her. Her
level and dispassionate delivery was described as "raging", "inchoate",
"angry", "bitter"; she was accused of "ripping into" Tony Blair, when
she simply and coldly condemned his presidential style.

Above all Short was derided for not having resigned sooner. The
Blairites smirked in triumph, knowing that when they had earlier
dissuaded her from resigning, they had promised her everything and
delivered nothing. It takes time to register that you have been had, but
Short was not to be allowed any. Even her reluctance to throw up the job
she loved was held against her. The media collected negative opinions
from her colleagues and faithfully repeated them all, including the
blatantly self-serving. A senior minister says her resignation deprived
Gordon Brown of "an incredibly important ally"; however, no commentator
offered that as an explanation for her hesitation in announcing her

Amid the general chorus of villification it was surprising to note that
the heads of various NGOs consider that Short has been a "fantastic"
Secretary of State for International Development. She had succeeded in
placing international aid high on the political agenda, committing the
Government to appropriate and consistent suppport for development,
rather than relying on regular disasters and the accompanying
pornography of degradation and misery to shake loose the donor dollar.
Hilary Benn, who takes over as spokesman on international development in
the Commons during the suzerainty of Lady Amos, learnt his trade at
Short's knee, but will be working very hard to conceal the fact now that
she has been officially declared "unstable", "fractious" and "scatty".

Short's successor as Secretary of State, Valerie Ann Amos, a Blairite
look-alike for Condoleezza Rice, was raised by Blair to the peerage in
1997, and subsequently appointed Foreign Office Minister responsible for
Africa, on the sole ground that he trusts her - a presidential move if
ever there was one. If Blair's trustfulness is the criterion for high
office we can confidently expect Carole Caplin in the Cabinet sometime

Women in positions of great responsibility tend to work much too hard.
They are reluctant to admit that management is the art of taking credit
for other people's work. They need to believe in the value of the work
itself. They are typically "hands-on", when they should be delegating
wherever feasible.

Successful male career politicians skim from major portfolio to major
portfolio, while women tend to dig in, immersing themselves in the
day-to-day business of their departments. This is not so much
appreciated as resented by the rank and file. Mo Mowlam worked
tirelessly as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, only to be
side-lined by Blair and Clinton when it came to taking credit for the
Northern Ireland Agreement. No male politician would have made either of
her two fundamental mistakes, the first of actually doing the work and
the second of failing to take the credit for it.

Typically, her departure from one important job was not followed by
appointment to a more important one. This, perversely, is what happens
if you give a tough job your best shot. As a career politician your best
shot should be reserved for your own aggrandisement. Throughout the
corporate world women are getting on and doing the job, imagining that
promotion will follow, when actually promotion must be negotiated
through horse-trading and arm-twisting. Strategies are contrived not in
the boardroom but behind the scenes, in the men's room as it were.
Success is less the result of hard work than low cunning. To demonstrate
this it is only necessary to compare and contrast the career of Peter
Mandelson with that of Mo Mowlam.

If Estelle Morris had been a man, bred up to the system of grooming and
controlling a squad of subalterns who actually do the footwork and
prepare the briefs and draft the statements and take the blame, she
would have avoided letting on to the entire world last October that she
was not "up to the job" of Secretary of State for Education. No
individual is "up to" any of these jobs; the canny administrator claims
all the victories and sheds all the cock-ups on to his expendable
inferiors. Morris insisted on claiming cock-ups that were in fact none
of her making. She never mastered double-speak, and both Short and
Mowlam are like her in this respect. Their insistence on straight talk
is invariably characterised as bluntness.

Most of us recognised the aptness of Short's description of Blair's
involvement in Bush's punitive raid on Iraq as "reckless", but the media
were unanimous that she should never have "blurted out" the word and
that Blair should have kicked her out. Though journalists complain that
politicians can never give a straight answer to a straight question,
they complain more loudly when they do. For any politician an
unambiguous statement is a hostage to fortune; time and again women
politicians find themselves trapped by their own utterances. When they
are back-benchers like Gwyneth Dunwoody, they can make a career of
driving home painful point after painful point, but it is no way to high

Trevor Phillips has described Lady Amos as "direct" and "incredibly
straight", as one who never shies "from telling the truth about
something". This augurs ill for her career as a Blairite secretary of
state. How long will it be before the Prime Minister starts miming that
she too has a screw loose?