Clare Short: ‘Coalition would be good for Miliband’

Britain would be better off if Ed Miliband faces the "challenge" of a coalition government rather than enjoying a big majority, Clare Short has suggested.

The former Cabinet minister, whose time in power saw Tony Blair rule with huge majorities, told a hung parliament was the "likely outcome" of the 2015 general election – and suggested it could prove a blessing in disguise for the Labour leader.

"It's a good challenge for British politics to stop pretending that winning parties have got even half of the vote," she said, pointing out that the only time a party won over 50% of the popular vote was the defeated Labour government in 1951.

Short served as international development secretary until her resignation over the Iraq War vote in 2003.

She argued John Smith would have won with a Labour majority of around 50 and questioned whether that would have been healthier than the huge majorities of 179 and 167 enjoyed by Tony Blair after his 1997 and 2001 landslides.

"Would a Labour government have been better with a majority of 50?" she asked.

"It's a question for the British political system. We like governments with clarity and firm majorities. But as turnouts decline, is this healthy, having very strong governments that can push people around?"

Short complained that political parties were concentrated on "focus groups and the soundbites of the day" in order to win partisan advantage.

"They're all competing on the same ground, pretending they hate each other and the other side's an abomination," she added.

"There are some really big political issues that need addressing, not just for the UK. But the absolutely mesmerising power of focus groups and polling means longer-term deeper thinking is neglected."

Her comments will not come as a surprise to those in Westminster who watched her reject the party system in the final years of her parliamentary career.

She quit the party whip in 2006 and served until 2010 as an independent MP.

Short dismissed the suggestion she would have been more comfortable serving in Ed Miliband's Cabinet than Tony Blair's, saying "we're each the child of our generation", but praised the current Labour leader for his transition to a focus on cost-of-living issues.

"That's the right place to go if you want to talk up to who's hurting," Short said.

"It seems to me that people sneered at Ed when he took up energy prices at the Labour party conference, but since then the government's been jumping around and being nervous about it, and is now talking about water pries and so on. The political debate is moving on."

Short is now chairwoman of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global campaign to help developing countries improve their governance as they look to take advantage of their natural resources.

Short has been instrumental in persuading developed countries to sign up to the initiative too. David Cameron announced Britain would do so at the Lough Erne G8 summit earlier this year.