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Monday, 18 June, 2001, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Ann Widdecombe: Out of the race
Ann Widdecombe
Ann Widdecombe: Not the second female Tory leader
Ann Widdecombe wanted to be the next Lady Thatcher.

Well, at least to the extent that she wanted to be the woman leader who steered the Conservative party out of opposition and into government.

That dream has now evaporated, leaving Miss Widdecombe - to some extent like Lady Thatcher - on the outside, looking in.

But while she may seem to have a lot in common with the former prime minister, Miss Widdecombe is very much her own woman.

Widdecombe's CV
Born 4 October 1947
Elected MP for Maidstone and The Weald 1987
Junior social security minister 1990-93
Junior employment minister 1993-94
Employment minister 1994-95
Home Office minister 1995-97
Shadow health secretary 1998-99
Shadow home secretary 1998-present
Elected in 1987, the Maidstone and Weald MP has always enjoyed a high public profile not least because of her strongly-held views and reputation for being outspoken.

Her harsh image was crystallised during her time as a Home Office minister in John Major's government, not least because she was held to have been responsible for the handcuffing of women prisoners giving birth.

But her public profile really only took off when the Conservatives took up their position on the opposition benches.

Miss Widdecombe played an influential part in the party's last leadership election, despite the fact that she was not a contender.

'Something of the night'

Her infamous suggestion that former Home Secretary Michael Howard - her former boss - had "something of the night about him" is said to have derailed his hopes of being leader.

Her reputation for toughness led William Hague to promote her to his shadow cabinet in 1998, initially as shadow health secretary and then as shadow home secretary.

Michael Portillo and Ann Widdecombe
Miss Widdecombe says she wouldn't join a Portillo cabinet
Miss Widdecombe is generally regarded to have been an effective opponent of Home Secretary Jack Straw in the last parliament.

And her tough policies on asylum, crime, law and order have also endeared her to many Conservative grassroots members.

But her political career appeared to stumble significantly in 2000 when she advocated a zero tolerance policy on drugs.

Embarassing U-turn

Usually famed for her strident performances at party conferences, Miss Widdecombe would probably prefer to forget Bournemouth.

Her policy was denounced by the police, by the media and by members of her own party.

Her keynote speech was relegated to the dustbin when just days later a sizeable proportion of the shadow cabinet admitted to smoking cannabis in their youth and William Hague announced a U-turn.

The short-term damage was immense but Miss Widdecombe lived on and played a key role in the Conservative general election campaign.

However, her policies on asylum, crime, and law and order did little to win over the voters - although none of the policies put forward by her colleagues appeared to have any better success.

Miss Widdecombe, a devout Christian who converted to Catholicism over her opposition to women priests in the Church of England, appears and talks tough.

She is adored by the grassroots - the very people who will make the final leadership decision by one-member, one-vote from a choice of two candidates chosen by the 166 Tory MPs.

Her problem, however, always lay in getting to that stage of the ballot and it was a hurdle she could not cross.

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