Right from the Beginning, Wrong in the End

I’ve just finished Ian Kochlan’s biography of Ann Widdecombe (Right from the Beginning). She was a mid-ranking minister in John Major’s government and was a briefly a potential party leader in the early noughties. She was unusual for being a social conservative. The British Conservative Party is arguably more a liberal party than a conservative one. Widdecombe attempted to de-liberalise our 1967 Abortion Act in 1987 with ally David Alton. The attempt failed, chiefly for want of Mrs Thatcher’s and her leading Conservatives’ support. Her government was primarily concerned with deregulating markets and promoting the pursuit of lucre.

Widdecombe was not without controversy- she appeared to support the shacking of female prisoners giving birth, but she stood up for things which many Christians would support. In 1993, she formally converted from Anglicanism to Romanism in a ceremony much photographed and televised. She had tired of the Church of England’s perennial compromises and fudges. She told the New Statesman:

I left the Church of England because there was a huge bundle of straw. The ordination of women was the last straw, but it was only one of many. For years I had been disillusioned by the Church of England's compromising on everything. The Catholic Church doesn't care if something is unpopular.

I think it a tragedy that she jumped ship for Rome. It’s not the jumping that was the mistake, but her chosen landing site. For someone who started off with an evangelical faith, who was once a counsellor at Billy Graham crusades and who successfully retained a distinctive Protestantism while attending a convent school, her conversion is a disappointment. Hers is a move recently repeated by Gavin Ashenden, a prominent Anglican clergyman, similarly exhausted by Canterbury’s desperate worldliness. Yet social conservatism and sincere piety are not enough. Liberal, Anglican emptiness is not remedied by Roman clutter but by Christ's pure gospel.

Much as I disapprove of her conversion to popery, and her right of centre politics won’t be to everyone’s taste, it is refreshing to have had so honest and transparent a politician. While many Conservatives were obsessed with monetarism and privatisation, she gained a name defending the unborn and the last traces of Christian influence. Recent parliaments have been well-stocked with cardboard cut-outs, offering every gesture and gimmick possible to demonstrate their liberal credential. Would that we had a handful of Widdecombes, across the party divide, to offer a common sense alternative to the House’s current moral torpor.