My Week: Ann Widdecombe at the Conservative Party conference in bournemouth

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The Independent Culture

Spent the morning in my constituency in Maidstone. By 11am I was at a local church service preaching. After that I came back to London - went through the speech with my researcher for most of the afternoon. Wondered how I'd ever get everything done by Monday. Tried to gear myself up for the week ahead in Bournemouth.


Got up hoping to get my hair done, but my appointment fell through so I was able to pack at a leisurely pace. Set off for Bournemouth. When I got there, one of the first things I did was to rehearse my speech on stage, and check that the microphone worked and where I could walk on the platform. You have to know where the limits of the stage are so you don't fall off. It may sound hilarious but if you take one step too far, then that's it.

While I was testing it out, I felt a mixture of excitement and uncertainty - people forget politicians are human in that way. After that, I took the speech back to my room and had another look at it.

In the evening, I went to a BMA [British Medical Association] dinner with the rest of my team and had a very lively debate about health policy. Then back to my room where I read my speech one more time and fell asleep.


Up at 5am to do endless media interviews from 6.30am onwards. I spoke to every wretched radio station there was. You do start to hear the same questions over and over again. The danger is, you get lulled into it and then suddenly there's one sharp question which jabs you, and you jump six feet in the air. But all the questions were utterly predictable. They kept asking me what figure I thought was suitable for a nurses' pay award. I couldn't answer the question, at least in the terms that they wanted.

Seven minutes past 11 and I was walking up to the platform to deliver my speech. There was a brief moment when I walked away from my notes and thought, "Is this such a good idea?" but it was only fleeting. The next thing I knew, I was running out of time. The chap who sits at the front and indicates how many minutes I had left was suddenly saying "one" when I thought I had three. But I managed to say it all - I reckoned that by then they were all listening anyway.

I knew it had gone well. I think it worked because I was using my own natural style - also I felt passionately about the subject. When I finished, it was non-stop thereafter; lots of congratulations. But what pleased me most was how the newspapers reported it; normally they distort the content of a speech but this time they didn't. Now I hope the debate will move on, and we'll talk about how the NHS will tackle supply.

The rest of the day was a blur of congratulations. William Hague was delighted and came up to me after the speech. Then in the evening I had a big lecture at which I was able to put across a more intellectual analysis of the day's speech.


Attended a lot of health fringe meetings - one with the Royal College of Nursing. There weren't any hostile questions but a lot of ones about nurses' pay. My answer was the same; it's an independent review body's decision and it has to be independently assessed.

The afternoon was full of endless meetings - I must have met a thousand people - and more media interviews.

One funny thing was going to a stall where you can have your health tested. So I trogged along and thought what a bad idea - I'd eaten a big fried breakfast. Then I was told I was in robust good health - maybe it's walking up and down that platform. Seriously, I put it down to feeling confident in what you're doing. That makes for a contented mind and good health.


The little train that takes us from the hotel to the conference broke down - a flat tyre. I patted my tummy and said, "I'll lend it an extra tyre", which I thought was rather funny. Ended up walking.

Spent some time signing postcards - photographs of myself from a book of photographs of women MPs produced by a lady called Victoria Carew-Hunt. Autographed and wrote, "Love Ann" on all of them.

Today was a more frivolous day; I went on to a tombola in aid of Conservative agents and won a biography of John Major. Of course, I'd read it, but I'll probably read it again - I may even get John to sign it if I see him around.

Then I had lunch with The Telegraph, which was quite good fun; indiscreet conversation about impressions of the conference. The most taxing question was, "What would you like for dessert?" Coffee-ice cream, actually.

Off to the leader's speech in the afternoon, which was superb. I was delighted about the line he took on the health service. The funniest thing was when he quoted St Thomas Aquinas and said it was like Tony Blair believing in everything and nothing.

Being honest, the bit of the conference I enjoyed most, apart from William's speech, was making my speech - which may not be too modest. It's been what I'd call a jolly conference. There's one the media reports on, and then the other, which is upbeat with a very good feel.