Edinburgh Book Festival: "Memoirs of a Singular Politician" Review

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Edinburgh Book Festival
Ann Widdecombe with Ruth Wishart, Chair
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This was billed as "The Baker Tilly Event" and was another packed, sell-out for the Book Festival indicating the tremendous pulling power of former Conservative Party MP Ann Widdecombe as a personality. The session was chaired by Ruth Wishart and the two ladies produced a sparkling sparring match which did not quite descend into fisty-cuffs!

Ruth Wishart introduced the speaker as someone who never lacked conviction or political courage and who gained notoriety by supporting the ban on hunting as well as trying to save the hedgehog.

She was asked first whether she was against the coalition Government; she said that generally she was not a supporter of coalition government as the parties involved have to surrender some of their manifesto promises to keep the coalition in being. So the voter does not always get what he or she voted for. However, she felt in this case that a coalition was essential as it would have been impossible to continue with Labour in power with all that they had done to help create the economic disaster we are currently dealing with.

For the Coalition to find the note from the outgoing Labour Treasury Minister saying, "good luck, there's nothing left" although accurate, it was not remotely encouraging! She felt that Cameron was "making a good fist of it".

She was next asked if UKIP had dragged the party to the right - she thought not, although some things that have been done may have alienated some supporters, she hoped that they would come back before the next election.

On same sex marriage Widdecombe was very strong and thought the proposed changes were totally unnecessary because all the laws that apply to hetrosexual marriage do not apply to marriages of the same sex.

Would she have preferred to be Home Secretary in Government rather than when a 'shadow' in Opposition? Of course, was the answer.

On drugs reform legislation, she felt she had been 'shafted ' by her colleagues and they had let her down which she regrets still.

Turning to Michael Portillo she said he was a joy to work for, always had time for individuals and was never flustered. But she said, after he lost his seat he was never the same again, becoming a changed man. Had he not been so different he could well have beaten Ken Clark for the leadership. Her view was that William Hague got the leadership too soon.

On leaving the House of Commons what had she wanted to do? She said she would have liked the Lords, but it was not to be. But why had she turned down the offer of being the British Ambassador to the Vatican? She explained how she at first thought the call from Cameron was a hoax, so said she would ring back - it was the PM!

She was initially thrilled but then had an eye problem two years before taking up the post which really meant she needed to remain in UK to be close to hospitals. Widdecombe added that when she asked the "good Lord" to say if she had made the right decision, she only wished that this had not been quite so emphatic.

On the reform of the House of Lords she disagreed with Tony Blair over his changes, as now it has been destroyed without any idea of what should take its place. All subsequent attempts at reform have failed. But, she said, you have to decide first what you want the Lords actually to do.

Asked about her dancing skills she openly admitted that she could not dance and that Anton had said, "the less time you spend with your feet on the floor the better"! She added that she had expected to be in the show for at the most for two weeks, however, by week ten she was really worried and asked Anton what his plan was; he suggested that if they got in the final they would fly in from opposite sides of the glitter ball and do their dancing in the air!

To close she asked for a frivolous question, "was there anyone in the House of Commons you fancied?"

Yes, she said, I used to look across at the opposition benches and there was someone I could have given a nice cuddle to. Who was it, she was pressed to answer? Well, she said, it was David Blunkett's dog!

A most entertaining and stimulating hour which everyone enjoyed!