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Firm but still fun

29 November 2013

Pat Ashworth appraises the hectoring but likeable Ann Widdecombe


Strictly Ann: The autobiography
Ann Widdecombe
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £20
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT205 )

ANN WIDDECOMBE's voice is so distinctive, and her views are so trenchant, that sitting down with this autobiography is like listening to her reading it out loud. Forthright hardly describes it. There is no dissimulation: she can sum up a whole era in a brisk observation, such as the one she makes of the 1970s - "Britons went less to church and ate out more" - and her hand goes up to acknowledge any misjudgement in her political career.

The uncompromising nature of her judgements on important issues is maddening at times. "If a bishop is going to question the resurrection and stay a bishop, then the Church has no purpose," she declares in the context of the simmering dissatisfaction with the Church of England which culminated in her secession to the Roman Catholic Church after the General Synod's 1992 vote in favour of women priests. This was a C of E whose approach was "always to follow, and not to lead"; "always ready to sacrifice faith to fashion, and creed to compromise".

Of her well-publicised stance on abortion, she says: "Most people assume I am pro-life because I am a Catholic, but the opposite is probably true: I am a Catholic because I am pro-life." Her stern response to the outrage that followed the mailing of a replica foetus to every MP during debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology and Fertilisation Bill, was: "I have never seen anything wrong with people being obliged to face the consequences of their actions."

This is a charming portrait of growing up, an insightful portrait of an age, and a candid account of the mess of Parliament from a survivor of the electoral carnage of 1997. It took her ten years of sheer hard grind to win a parliamentary seat.

Honourably retired in 2010, and now "having fun", she is as surprised as anybody about the way her life has worked out. You like her in spite of yourself, and that is the triumph of the book.

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