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Tuesday, June 2, 1998 Published at 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK

UK Politics: Talking Politics

Ann Widdecombe - political sketch

Political profile by Peter Hill:

Ann Widdecombe was William Hague's bold choice in his first reshuffle for shadow health secretary in place of John Maples, on the basis of a strong performance from the backbenches.

In the last government, she was the outspoken home office minister in charge of prisons (she visited every single one) who attacked her former boss Michael Howard over his version of his dismissal of Derek Lewis, the Director-General of the Prison Service.

Her attack - "there is something of the night about him" - damaged Mr Howard's chances in the leadership contest won by William Hague.

She now has to work alongside Mr Howard in the shadow cabinet.

She converted to Roman Catholicism, rather publicly, over the ordination of women priests by the Church of England and is deeply religious. Strongly anti-abortion. Was brought up partly in Singapore.

Miss Widdecombe was a minister throughout John Major's premiership. After three years in the Commons, was made junior minister at Social Security, then at Employment, moving to the Home Office in 1995. Now a Privy Counsellor.

Firmly on the right on most issues and a diligent attender at the Commons.

Has become an impressive Commons performer whom MPs come in to hear - for example on the fox-hunting bill. Effective questioner of Tony Blair.

She has become something of a cult figure and TV star (though she does not own a set) appearing on chat shows, Question Time and so on, and even playng the role of a judge. Frequently profiled and admired for her frankness - "I know I'm short, overweight and ugly ". Admits to caring little about image and clothes.

Unkindly dubbed Doris Karloff. "The sort of lady you would expect to find manning the desk of an Albanian public library" - according to Chris Moncrieff of the Press Association.

Lives alone and tries to diet: "My freezer is stuffed with Lean Cuisine..." Is writing a novel which she describes as "an ethical potboiler".

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