Ann Widdecombe PC, MP Meets the FIEC Citizenship Committee -
In recent years the voice and views
of evangelical churches have been too little heard and registered
in the ‘corridors of power’. As society becomes more overtly
godless, it is not surprising that there are issues of a moral
nature, upon which the Biblical principles are clear, and about
which evangelicals feel compelled to express themselves to ‘all
those in authority’.
To enlarge and inform its thinking, the Home Secretary, Mr Jack
Straw, was invited to meet the Committee for a question-and-answer
session. One of his aides said that he was too busy.
Miss Ann Widdecombe, MP for Maidstone and The Weald and the shadow
Home Secretary was therefore invited. On 9 June she spent
about 35 minutes with the Committee - she was typically
forthright, articulate and well-informed. The following is
an edited version of our exchanges.
Targeting of Evangelicals.
Did William Hague's visit to Spring Harvest at Minehead in April
2000 indicate that the Conservative Party was particularly
AW: The Conservative Party was not
currently targeting evangelicals but wanted more contact with the
broadest possible range of churches and church associations,
believing that this sector had a significant part to play in
What was the current view of the Conservative Party on abortion
AW: Her own position was well-known, and
William Hague's voting record on the abortion issue was
exemplary. One of his recent speeches had highlighted his
personal belief that the time limit for abortions should be
reduced. Miss Widdecombe confirmed that she could never be a
minister in the Department of Health in view of the close
relationship between that Department and the practice of abortion.
Strengthening Marriage and Family Life.
What was the family policy of the Conservative Party, and what
actions, including fiscal measures, would it take to strengthen
marriage and the family?
AW: Marriage was at the centre of
Conservative Party family policy. Tax breaks were more
important as signals rather than as remedial measures.
People did not enter marriage, or stay married, because of the tax
advantages, and it would not therefore strengthen marriage to
adopt such measures. However, such measures did give signals
with regard to the suppositions and values of a strong society,
and were significant in that respect. Along with other
elements of changing social patterns and structures, stronger
marriage and family life cannot be achieved by measures enacted by
politicians and Parliaments. The change must come from
within. It was for the church to change hearts and minds.
The Committee would have its own views about how to interpret in
its own context Miss Widdecombe's assertion that it was for the
church to change hearts and minds, but what in her view were the
possible ways in which the church could achieve this?
AW: Keep on bringing views on issues to
the notice of MPs and others involved in the democratic process
and in positions of influence. Many are the occasions when
confronting issues when MPs will say to themselves: ‘I received
something in my postbag about that the other day.’ It may
seem insignificant, but it all helps.
The importance of role models cannot be over-emphasised in the
battle for hearts and minds. In connection with family
values, the church has got to show that family life ‘works’ and
this can only be accomplished by demonstrating example after
example of families who have found a successful and secure way of
life which others can see clearly to be a genuine reality.
What needed to be demonstrated was that this liberal society has
failed, and we needed to move on (not back) to where we were 40
In viewing trends in society, Miss Widdecombe felt that there was
a cyclical element to the pattern of public attitudes. This
cycle was not inevitable, as the changes which occurred always had
immediate causes, but cyclical change had always been the nature
of history. In the light of this, as she viewed the present
state of society, she described herself as ‘a long-term optimist,
though a short-term pessimist’.
Concern was being expressed by churches about the implications of
the forthcoming human rights legislation, based on a European
Union directive, which would outlaw employment discrimination on
grounds of sexual orientation or religious belief. This
legislation would have a direct impact on Christian organisations
whose workforce was currently entirely Christian. What could
be done about this?
AW: Churches had only themselves to
blame. Some two or three years ago, when this issue was
first being raised for discussion, I and a number of other
politicians were highlighting the difficulties which this
legislation was likely to throw up, but the churches gave no
support at that time. There had been an instinct among
churches as a whole to go along with this legislation, rather than
to oppose it, as human rights for minorities sounded like a good
What was the Conservative Party's current stance over Section 28?
AW: The Conservative Party's view on
Section 28 was unambiguous and had always been consistent.
It was the Conservative Government which introduced this
legislation, and it was committed to its retention and had always
opposed repeal, to the extent of a three-line whip. Though
shaken by the Scottish experience, the Labour Government was
committed to repeal, was ‘in the grip’ of the homosexual lobby,
and had a big Parliamentary majority. The Government had
publicly expressed a commitment to use the Parliament Act to get
the repeal legislation through Parliament, and this could happen
Caring for the Elderly.
What could be done to enhance the role of carers in society,
particularly in relation to the nation's elderly? Would one
of the answers be to improve the conditions of care assistants in
residential establishments, thus attracting a higher quality of
AW: The decline of the family and a sense
of family responsibility had led to the increasing demands upon
the public services in connection with the elderly. I look
after my aged mother, but I don't think of myself as her 'carer' -
I'm her daughter after all! It would not be practicable to
raise the profile of carers through salaries offered, as there
were so many of them and the cost would be enormous. But
more could be done to assist family ‘carers’ and this was an area
which was currently being examined.
Reacting to Misrepresentation.
What had been Miss Widdecombe's reaction to hostility and
misrepresentation in the course of her political life?
AW: The over-riding aim of a politician
should be to put across what he or she sincerely believes.
This would at times inevitably lead to criticism. She knew
what it was like to be anti-hunting in a Party which was
pro-hunting, almost to a man. She had even been described as
being in favour of women prisoners giving birth in chains.
Those in the public spotlight could not seek to put right every
occurrence of misrepresentation, but they should not all be
ignored. In making a stand against misrepresentation, it was
important to select those occasions where a crucial principle was
at stake. Opposition and misrepresentation ‘went with the
territory’ of being a politician.
In reflecting on the exchanges with Miss Widdecombe, the Committee
felt that she had shown herself to be genuinely among the more
morally-sensitive of politicians, sharing with equal conviction
the views of evangelicals on many issues, though from her stance
as a convert to Roman Catholicism. For anyone interested in
finding out more about Ann Widdecombe's political activity, she
has one of the most-visited web sites on the net - the famous
Widdy Web - and this can be viewed at www.annwiddecombemp.com
Ann Widdecombe gained honours degrees in Latin and in Politics
and Economics, including an MA from Oxford University, and while
still in her twenties became a member of Runnymede District
Council. Her early employment career was in health service
and university administration, but in 1987 she became MP for
Maidstone. Over succeeding years she has held a number of
junior government appointments, the last being Minister of State
at the Home Office from 1995-97. Her decision, in the
early 1990s, to convert from the Anglo-Catholic wing of the
Church of England to Roman Catholicism, at the time of the
ordination of women to the Anglican ministry, was
widely-publicised. [This report was co-authored by