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Ann Widdecombe MP
Ann Widdecombe MP
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: ANN WIDDECOMBE MP JULY 15TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And now to the Tory leadership itself. We've been talking about it there. Of course we know the three candidates, and over here we have one of the early candidates. She then stepped down from that. She supported Michael Ancram and now she's supporting Ken Clarke, I think. Is that correct?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: That's absolutely right, yes.

DAVID FROST: And why have you chosen him?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: We need somebody who is going to win. You can be as purist as you like in opposition, but you can't actually do anything, you can't achieve anything. You can only achieve and do things in government and therefore to me the crucial test for who is to lead the Tory Party is who is going to win the next election. Who can actually bring us into government where we can stop talking about things and start doing things.

DAVID FROST: And of course, he is more, he's not left-wing, he's centre-right, but he's more to the left as it were than the other two candidates and was your feeling there, partially, that you need someone who can appeal to the centre now?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: He's more to the left than I am. We don't agree for example on Europe. But I think the Conservative Party have got to be grown up. We have always been a party of both the left and the right. I don't mean that we contain both the left and the right, but the party is both it's left and it's right. And we've got to get behind the person who can win.

DAVID FROST: And what about the other supporters of Michael Ancram? Do you think they will probably follow your lead? Your words will be influential?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: They will make their own minds up. There is nobody so independent as a backbench member of parliament, I can tell you.

DAVID FROST: Well of course, Michael Portillo was suggesting yesterday, whether this was a subtle ploy, I don't know, that Iain Duncan Smith may now be in the lead. And that he and Ken Clarke will be fighting it out for the second position. Do you see it that way, do you read it that way?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: What I see at the moment is that it is too close to call. There were only 11 votes, with 35 yet to be re-distributed. There are only 11 votes between number one and number three. Only three votes between number two and number three. So it is far too close to call. What I do know is that I think the Conservative membership out there expect to be able to make a real choice, when they actually get a chance to enter this process.

DAVID FROST: Obviously, I'm not surprised that you're not supporting Michael Portillo because you've made clear that you would not, could not do that. Ken Clark won out over Iain Duncan Smith in your affections at this moment. Purely because of the...

ANN WIDDECOMBE: Because I think that he has a very wide appeal to people. He has a lot of experience. You're talking here about a man who's been Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Education Secretary, Health Secretary. He has a lot of experience. He has a lot of appeal. Now I think Iain Duncan Smith is a very able, a very likeable, very decent man. And I'm a great admirer of Iain Duncan Smith, but if I am asked to choose between them for who can lead us to victory next time, then my judgement is not against Iain, it is for Ken.

DAVID FROST: And you think Ken can sort out the Europe issue in a way that makes sense?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: There's going to be a free vote, we're going to be free to make up our own minds. The Tory Party has to grow up over this one. Let me say this, I didn't vote for John Major as leader. I didn't vote for William Hague as leader. But I gave both of them one hundred and ten per cent of my loyalty. Not a hundred per cent, a hundred and ten. And if everybody else had done the same, the Tory Party would be in much better shape today. We've got to grow up, stop feuding over Europe and get on with getting back to making ourselves a party that will run this country again.

DAVID FROST: And what about, what about you, would you, would you like, if you can, to continue in the similar role in a shadow cabinet by Ken Clarke?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: I have made it very clear that although I would have no difficulty at all working for either Ken Clarke or Iain Duncan Smith, it would be an honour in both cases. Although I'd have no difficulty, I have had now ten out of the last 11 years on the front bench, I want for a while the space to get involved in a broader range of issues, to be much freer to speak my mind and to make proposals. I want that time on the backbenches.

DAVID FROST: You do?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: I do. I actively want that time on the backbenches.

DAVID FROST: To refuel, as it were, for the future?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: I think it does nobody harm from time to time to have, to get out of the front bench and to once again operate as backbencher. We've so marginalised the backbenchers, parliament is so marginalised at the moment, that you actually do need a few people who have the experience at the front bench to try and get in there and make a fight for it.

DAVID FROST: Do you think these diaries that we've read about so much and we were just talking about, Amanda Platell, do you think they'll have any influence on Tuesday's vote?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: I don't know because I don't know what's in them. And I don't know what we'll be shown tonight. I can better answer that question after I've seen it.

DAVID FROST: Right. And in terms of the system that this election has used. Do you think this new system has worked or not worked?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: I think the best indication of that will be what is the choice that is finally presented to the members. And whether they feel they've got the candidates before them that they wanted to see. And I think after all this is over we will need to stand back and ask if we've got it right. But it's a new system, it's in its infancy, at least it's a democratic system where all the members do have a say. They used to have no say at all.

DAVID FROST: No say at all. They have more now. But what would happen, I don't think the rules really cater for this, but what would happen, you were mentioning only three votes between one candidate and all of that. What would happen if, if in fact, in this situation, there was a tie for second and third?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: Well, what I would like to see happen is that all three would then go through to the membership. That is what I would like to see happen. But I'm not sure that the rules provide for that.

DAVID FROST: Right, so in that situation something else would have to happen or like it did the first time around?

ANN WIDDECOMBE: Well, as I say I'm not sure the rules provide or allow three people to go through. But that's what I would like to see happen. That's what I think would be the sensible, grown up thing to happen. If that were the result on Tuesday.

DAVID FROST: Thank you, Ann, thank you very much indeed. Much appreciated.

END

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