Leading us a merry dance…
😀 😀 😀 😀 😀
Ann Widdecombe has had a remarkable and varied career, as a politician, as an author and most recently as a broadcaster and media personality. In this autobiography, her voice comes through clearly as she tells her stories and shares her opinions in the straightforward, no-nonsense way we have all come to love – or hate! This is a linear account of her life with the occasional digression where Widdecombe lets off a bit of pent-up steam on subjects dear to her.
‘I have never understood how any woman can want positive discrimination. In the 1970s the attitude was robust: give us equal opportunities and we will show that we are as good as the men. In the 1990s that became: we can’t manage without special measure to smooth our paths and we want advantages over the men in order to compete…The culture of whingeing grievance is silly and sad. It lets down women and is hardly worthy of the heirs to the suffragettes.’
She starts by telling us about her childhood when, as the daughter of a senior member of the Admiralty, her family moved from posting to posting both in Britain and abroad. She talks about her time as a boarder in a convent school and as a student at Birmingham University. She was clear from an early age that she wanted to go into politics so spent the next several years during the ‘70s and ‘80s seeking nomination to a constituency, before eventually becoming an MP in 1987.
Widdecombe is a talented writer and she makes this an interesting tale, filled with anecdotes, both humorous and serious. We get a clear picture of the things that are important to her – family, conservatism with a small as well as a large C, and her strong Christian faith: the influence of which can be seen in every aspect of her life. Pro-life, anti-gay marriage, she eventually found the Anglican church in which she grew up to be veering too far from doctrine in an attempt to placate modern sensibilities; and her conversion to Roman Catholicism took place when the Church of England voted to ordain women priests. Whether the reader agrees with her views or not, she puts forward cogent arguments for her beliefs and actions on all of these divisive questions. She also takes the opportunity to try to debunk some of the more extreme myths, exaggerations and vilifications peddled about her by the gutter press and her political opponents, to such a degree that they have almost become part of the national folklore.
Her political career had its highs and lows and this book concentrates very much on the aspects of government in which she was personally involved, rather than giving a broader picture of the political events of the time. Hence we get a great deal of detail over the prisons debacle that led to her public fight with Michael Howard, for example, but very little about the downfall of Thatcher or the lead-up to the war in Iraq. However, her own career was varied enough to provide plenty of interest and her written style is much like her spoken – forthright, uncompromising and often witty.
‘Politicians are often accused of not listening, but it is equally a charge we can level at the public who seem to think it will be all right on the night and that, if it isn’t, then it is our fault. How about their own responsibility to inform themselves properly before casting their vote? How about flying pigs?’
Widdecombe spends the last couple of chapters telling us about her life since she left Parliament in 2010 including, of course, the pure comedy genius of her performances with the wondrous Anton du Beke on Strictly Come Dancing, which made her a household name even amongst those who pay no attention to politics. Overall, this book confirms my opinion of her as a woman who would probably be intensely irritating on occasion, difficult to persuade, a bad enemy…but a good and loyal friend, a loving daughter and a witty and sometimes wickedly funny companion. This autobiography isn’t just for the political nerds amongst us – there’s plenty of politics here, but also a story of a much wider and interesting life before and after her time in Parliament.
And as a little reward for anyone who made it this far, do, do, watch the video all the way to the end…