Ann Widdecombe's Demolition of Michael Howard Charted Some Important Elephant Traps of Office That Labour Should Heed

By Riddell, Mary | New Statesman (1996), May 23, 1997 | Go to article overview

Ann Widdecombe's Demolition of Michael Howard Charted Some Important Elephant Traps of Office That Labour Should Heed


Riddell, Mary, New Statesman (1996)


Though discredited as a method of running prisons, Michael Howard's work-sharing formula still applies to matters of conscience. God, it seems, is policy, and Ann Widdecombe is operations.

Widdecombe is actually a bit fed up with the notion of the Almighty being the great knife-sharpener behind her filleting of the former Home Secretary, whose chances of gaining the party leadership now resemble those of a dead haddock. Not that she didn't pray for guidance.

Indeed, she went further. As she told me shortly after her demolition of Howard, she had confided some weeks ago to her parish priest that she had "this strong sense of injustice and a wish to see a wicked man get his comeuppance". Should that dubious motive be allowed to creep into her thinking, she wondered?

My aversion to Howard's record and to the confessional box is roughly equivalent, so I couldn't possibly judge. Still, there was something miraculous about the Widdecombe victory. Or at least wondrously ironic. After weeks in which we have marvelled at the influx of new women MPs - bright, on-message and set to change the complexion of parliament - it is rather weird that it took Doris Karloff to do it.

Widdecombe quite likes the Karloff tag. Nor does she mind impertinent comments about her sofa-esque bosom, virgin status or inky hair dye. She dislikes, in no particular order, flowers, women priests, the idea of freeing Myra Hindley, Milk Tray (as not sent by Derek Lewis) and the notion - preposterous as bestowing babe status upon her - that she is anew icon of post-feminism.

And yet, for all her wish to have pregnant women prisoners clapped in irons and her pro-life orthodoxy, Widdecombe has earned respect from those who loathe her wider views but admire her persistence and skill in demolishing Howard where others, notably Jack Straw, had failed. Straw never had her ammunition or inside knowledge. Still, good for her.

But the point about Widdecombe is not only that she has become the most unlikely role model for aspiring women. In addition she has kindly provided a comprehensive chart of the elephant traps that Labour must avoid.

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