IN THE NEWS: ANN WIDDECOMBE: All is forgiven for the plain speaker with a rising star

Kim Sengupta
Tuesday 03 March 1998 00:02 GMT

ON THE surface it seems a tale of forgiveness and reconciliation. Michael Howard is keen to broadcast the fact that he considers Ann Widdecombe, the woman who in effect scuppered his Tory leadership hopes, would be a very useful colleague in the Shadow Cabinet, and he would have no objections to her appointment.

So what is it like for Ms Widdecombe to be suddenly embraced by a colleague whom she once described as having "something of the night" about him? A source close to her mused: "I suppose one can cope, as long as there is a plentiful supply of garlic."

Appearances can deceive, in politics perhaps more than any other aspect of life. Mr Howard's offering of the olive branch, say Ms Widdecombe's supporters, has less to do with magnanimity than saving his own face. She has already been sounded out about a post in William Hague's team, and the shadow Foreign Secretary is in no position to object.

It is no longer thought to be a case of if she will join the Shadow Cabinet, but in what capacity. One of the possible posts could be social services - with the present incumbent Iain Duncan-Smith promoted - or home affairs, where Brian Mawhinney has signalled an intention to leave frontline politics.

The source added: "Michael did not really have a choice. There is a lot of support for Ann Widdecombe being in the Shadow Cabinet, and he can hardly object. He is basically retaliating first by being gracious. But he has been very frosty the few times they have spoken together recently. If she gets on the Shadow Cabinet they will obviously work together, but it would be hypocritical to say there has been a rapprochement."

Since the May meltdown - as what is left of the Tory parliamentary party tries to find itself a coherent role - the star of the woman once ridiculed as "Doris Karloff" has continued to rise. She makes regular appearances on a television series, her novel is close to completion, and in the House her attacks on Blairism have earned her a new nickname "U-boat Widdecombe".

Interestingly, Ms Widdecombe's parliamentary efforts have won the approval of not only Tory MPs, seeing at least someone in their ranks who can get under the skin of new Labour, but also of the Labour old guard who like her directness and independence - reminding them, perhaps, of the days of opposition and debate before the arrival of the Millbank thought police.

Ms Widdecombe, MP for Maidstone and Weald, says she finds being on the Opposition back benches "liberating". However, she is quick to stress that she has never said she would not want to be in government again. A shadow cabinet post would of course be a step in that direction, and with the Tories likely to be out of office for at least a decade, there is time enough to establish herself in her party's front ranks. " Politics," she says " is a very long game."


Ms Widdecombe clashed with her boss, Michael Howard over the sacking of the Prisons Director Derek Lewis. She claimed the Home Secretary had misled the House of Commons over the matter. It was suggested that Mr Lewis had sent Ms Widdecombe chocolates and flowers, with the suggestion that she had somehow become besotted with the Prisons Director. An angry Ms Widdecombe proved no such gifts had been sent. "Something of the night" was her description of Mr Howard.


Ms Widdecombe decided to become a politician at the age of of 14 while at a boarding school at Bath. She entered politics after Oxford she became the villain of the left for her defence of handcuffing expectant mothers at Holloway jail, and then its hero for savaging Michael Howard.


Ms Widdecombe, a converted Catholic, is against sex before marriage. She is unmarried, and have been unattached apart from a brief courtship at Oxford. She says: " If anyone says I am not a virgin, I will sue. One can easily do without sex, just as one can do without television".

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