Ann Widdecombe: You Ask The Questions

The Conservatice MP answers your questions, such as 'Why do you want to be Speaker?' and 'What's your favourite joke?'
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The Independent Online

Why do you want to be Speaker? CAROL NORTON, Bristol

I think somebody needs to do a focused job of restoring Parliament's reputation with the public, and I connect well with the public.

How can someone as right-wing as you be a neutral Speaker? HOWARD KERRY, Luton

The Speakers have over the years been drawn from all persuasions, and it is a basic requirement of the job to be neutral throughout one's time in office.

Wouldn't you find it a bit boring to have to bite your tongue if you got the job? PAUL BROWN, Cardiff

No, the job itself would make up for it in terms of interest.

What do you think of your conservative colleague and rival for the Speaker's job John Bercow? Is it true Labour MPs like him more than his own party do? DEAN FIELDING, London

It does appear to be the case that John enjoys a lot of support in the Labour Party, but I am not going to comment on individual rivals, personally or professionally.

You earn a lot of money through your media appearances and books. Will you give those up if you become Speaker? ANNE TERRY, Manchester

I would have no choice, because the Speaker may not have outside interests. It wouldn't become a hinderance because it would only be for 10 months, and I'd be able to go back into it afterwards anyway.

Would it be dignified to have a Speaker who is as well-known for reality TV appearances as for her politics? HARRIET DOWNS, Sheffield

The public appear to want me to become Speaker, and presumably it doesn't appear undignified to them. It's chicken and egg, isn't it? I'd never have got on television but for the fact I was already well-known as a politician.

What would you do to restore Parliament's reputation if you got the job? NINA FERRIS, Andover

I think the Speaker has to stand up for Parliament as well as crack down on those who have erred. And it's important that we stress that hundreds of MPs are not affected by the present scandal. Those who have done wrong must pay the price.

You plan to retire at the next election. But doesn't the House of Commons desperately need the stability of a permanent Speaker? FRANK MAY, Lairg

Normally I would agree, but the circumstances are not normal, and there is an argument for having somebody who will focus on the job for a concentrated period of time, and then hand over to a fresh Parliament. I definitely think we should not have a third Labour Speaker; we've already had two, and it is the convention of the House that that should now change.

What are you going to do after you retire? ANDREW NAYSMITH, Burnley

I've bought a house on Dartmoor; I shall write detective novels and walk dogs. I'll be relieved to retire – I certainly didn't hate the job, and I wouldn't have spent my life any other way, but there always comes a point when you just want to give up.

Why did the BNP do so well in the European elections? TAMMY WATSON, Exeter

I think they were used as a protest vote against the failure of the major parties to do something about immigration, but it is still an alarming trend. I don't think most of those who voted BNP are racists; I think they want some firm action on immigration and they're sending a message, but I don't think they're in love with the party. Indeed, I know some perfectly respectable people who admitted voting for them just to shake the parties up. I do sincerely hope they haven't got a major following in their own right, however, and I find it very worrying that they are starting to look and sound reasonable.

Were you pleased to see Nick Griffin get egged before his press conference? HARRY BARTLETT, Northampton

I don't believe that violence of any sort promotes good debate. I don't think it was a serious matter, I mean I've had eggs and flour and goodness knows what else before now – in fact, if I put it all together I could probably make quite a jolly pancake. I don't take it seriously, but nor does it please me.

How do you and Michael Howard get on these days? Would you still say there was 'something of the night' about him? OLIVER GOODE, Chester

We get on perfectly well! We work together, and we always have done. I don't, however, comment on disagreements that go back to 1997. I said all I had to say at the time.

You expressed your doubts about David Cameron when he was running for party leader. Do you retain them? JAMES WILBUR, Harrow

It's quite true I wasn't voting for David Cameron, but that doesn't mean that everybody I don't vote for makes a bad leader. If you actually look at his record of success, and where we are in the polls, I shouldn't think anybody does have any doubts. My working relationship with him is fine.

As a former prison minister, would you now accept that chucking more and more people in jail simply isn't working?GABY HUNTER, Brighton

Prisons work in two ways. The first way, which works very well, is that it keeps people off the streets, so we are safer when criminals are in prison. The second way in which it's supposed to work, and which it does very badly, is that it's supposed to prepare people while they are in prison for an industrious and law-abiding life. In fact, too many prisons are based on idleness, with the net result that prison doesn't have a purpose other than protecting the public for a short while.

You recently said that there is 'no climate change' based on 'looking out of your bedroom window'. That's facile, isn't it? Do you really think you know better than the vast majority of scientists who've spent their lives working on the subject? ALAN MARSH, Derby

I don't recognise the quote about looking out of my bedroom window, so I suspect it was a joke during the snow. However, scientists were badly wrong in the 1970s, when they predicted another Ice Age, so I do not accord the same infallibility that you seem to.

The modern theology is that there is global warming, and that it's proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, yet we haven't had any change in the Earth's temperature for the whole of this century. For nine years we've had no change, and yet we've never belted out so much carbon. The facile argument in fact is to say that there is climate change, and that it's all definitely down to carbon dioxide, when most of the climate change is down to solar activity. I'm not a slave to science.

What is your proudest political achievement? What is your biggest failure? EMMA SAXON, Dundee

It was getting one of my constituents out of jail in Morocco, by which I mean I got him released. I didn't spring him from jail! By the time his wife came to see me, he'd been convicted, sentenced, lost an appeal and was facing nine years in a Moroccan jail for a crime not even the Moroccans really believed he had committed. I tried the diplomatic route, but it got me nowhere, so in the end I went out to Rabat and saw a whole raft of Moroccan ministers.

If you had to pick someone from outside Parliament to be the Speaker, who would it be? DENIS GREGORY, Wells

Jeremy Paxman. I think he would keep things wonderfully in order, and he'd never have to say much – he would just pull faces.

Would you have given up your outspokenness in exchange for a Cabinet job? HELEN NEEDHAM, West Lulworth

I accepted collective responsibility for seven years as a minister, and I don't see why that should changed if I'd been in the Cabinet. I always had a desire to be in the Cabinet, but there was a change of government in 1997, you'll remember. I was a very senior minister, and I would almost certainly have been in the next Cabinet or the one after, but, you know, we left government.

You had quite a makeover when you changed your hair. Which other MP do you think needs a new look? BELINDA WILLS, Newcastle

I think all of Parliament needs a new look. We need a new look with the public. We need to look honest, earnest and in love with our jobs. If you have a Speaker in position for a very focused period of 10 months, which I would be, and if they connect with the public, which I think I do, then that would be something you'd have to work from.

You said your favourite joke was about Napoleon keeping his armies up his sleevies. Can't you think of a better one? LARRY DURNO, Ipswich

[Chuckling heartily] Knock, knock? Who's there? Amos. Amos who? Amos-Quito [uproarious guffaws].