British Labour MP Clare Short has always been a stormy petrel. Throughout her political career, most of which had been spent on the opposition benches, Ms Short has made no effort to mince her words or dress them in diplomatic niceties. She has also refused to be hypocritical - "I say what I mean and if other people don't like it, that's their problem." Her bluntness has outraged her opponents as often as it has made her own colleagues squirm. In fact, just before the last British elections, Ms Short nearly derailed Labour's carefully choreographed campaign by blasting her own party's leadership.
"What do you do with Clare?" asked an exasperated leader in a headline in a Labour newspaper. You make her Secretary of State for International Development as a damage limitation exercise, seems to have been the party's answer.
But Ms Short has seized the opportunity with both hands. "Before the elections, we said we would hammer poverty world-wide. Now that we have won, we're going to do it. It can be done - mark my words," she said soon after taking office.
Her appointment sent the normally imperturbable Foreign Office mandarins into a flap. Their worst fears were soon realised. She abolished the Overseas Development Administration (ODA) which had operated under the Foreign Office and set up a new, independent department, the Department for International Development which would henceforth oversee aid. At one stroke, she had separated aid from politics leaving Whitehall to twiddle its thumbs and look for levers other than aid with which to push policy on reluctant third world governments. She went further and stated categorically that aid would no longer be tied to British trade.
"If we are going to eliminate poverty," she said in a television interview, "we can't go into the battlefield with our hands and feet tied."
Just before we went to press, her department published the first White Paper on Inter-national Develop-ment for 22 years. It is a comprehensive document ranging from inter-governmental partnership to child labour. The target Ms Short has set herself is to reduce world poverty by half by the year 2015. She wants everybody to become involved in this process. A shorter, simpler version of the paper has been translated into six languages and is being distributed in schools and supermarkets. "Everyone can play their part - business people, tax-payers, tourists, consumers and parents - to forge a new patriotism so that Britons can be proud...