OPINION: Best PR response to Clare Short is silence

Debate is raging in Westminster as to whether or not Clare Short is a PR disaster for Tony Blair.

The jury is probably still out, but from my observation while I was in Inverness for the Scottish Labour Party conference last weekend it's true to say that the comrades are not best pleased with her. Even the left-leaning General Secretary of Amicus, Derek Simpson, went out of his way to attack the former International Development Minister. The trouble with Clare Short is that she has the habit of upsetting even her friends.

Everyone seems to have an anecdote, and here is mine.

When working for Gordon Brown I was often in her office giving PR advice.

She was notorious for putting her foot in it and Gordon, who did everything in his power to support and protect Ms Short, had asked me to give her a helping hand. Eventually we got her to employ her own spin-doctor and I found an able chap from the Trade Unions. Within days she was in trouble yet again with the press and Alastair Campbell was forced to rebuke her.

Her reaction was to launch a full blown attack, not against Number 10, but against all spin-doctors. Thanks Clare!

To say that the Prime Minister is upset with his former minister is the understatement of the year. If he had his way she would be sleeping on a park bench permanently. Tony Blair knows, though, that given enough rope she will hang herself. When she claimed we had bugged the UN, even those papers desperate to get rid of Blair could not stomach such disloyalty to our security forces.

Everyone in Westminster knows that we regularly bug our friends but it's just not cricket to admit it. When I complained in the press bar that we got better information about what our European partners were up to from the FT than MI6, the spooks wanted to know how come a chap like me who hadn't been positively vetted knew what they were up to. I wanted to know which hack is in MI6. The spies may be excited about whom the French finance minister is having an affair with but it's not what Gordon Brown wanted to know.

Clare Short's mistake was not to reveal her UN spook story at the time.

But to take her to court for a breach of the Official Secrets Act or to punish her through the party machinery would be a poor PR move. She would immediately become a martyr and therefore more dangerous to Blair.

This is why it's difficult to understand what Sir Andrew Turnbull was doing sending Short a threatening letter. In my experience, he's very keen to please his political masters and such bad PR only kept the Iraq story running. David Hill will no doubt have told Turnbull to keep his pen in his pocket and his mouth shut.

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