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Tuesday, October 5, 1999 Published at 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK

UK Politics

Ann Widdecombe answers your questions

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe answers questions sent by BBC News Online users.

Q: Why didn't the Tories introduce curfews for problem estate children, even though you were in power for 18 years?
Stephanie Turnbull, London

A: Because I don't think that's an effective way of going about it and that has been demonstrated. Labour did introduce them, they've been available for 12 months and not a single one has been used - absolute zero.

We always foresaw that possibility and we have other measures that we wish to introduce. I haven't talked about this, so I don't know why she asks me that.

Q: When does the fight back begin?

I am a conservative (small C) and also a Conservative voter, but I am increasingly frustrated with the lack of presence of the Party at the moment and its failure to attack the targets so regularly provided by the Government.

I think William Hague has the potential to be an effective Leader of the Opposition and ultimately a good Prime Minister, but with the best will in the world, where has he been over the Summer?

The summer recess is the ideal opportunity for the Opposition to hog the limelight by attacking the Government and (more appealing) announcing its alternative policies, but in my perception, it seems that apart from Anne Widdecombe, everyone else was on holiday.

You have the template for effective opposition becoming Government (Labour) so why not use it?
Julian Holley, Essex

A: I think we are using it and what you've seen this week with the launch of our new policies is putting us on the path to victory.

I know people have got frustrated. They've said, why didn't we introduce policies much earlier. But a wise opposition doesn't do that. I would refer him to Neil Kinnock's opposition where Neil Kinnock made a policy a week. By the end of the five years he was locked not only into a very expensive agenda but into a completely inappropriate agenda because the world had moved.

An opposition has to keep its nerve and not make pronouncements in the first couple of years.

BBC News Online: Are you risking making too many now?

A: I don't think so, because I think now we have a very clear idea of where this government is going. What you can't do is fight the last election, you've got to fight the next, so you do need that period of time where you've got to make those assessments.

Q: I never thought that I would support Tory policies. I seem to, that's if Miss Widdecombe's views are the Party's. I do however feel that until Hague, or whoever else become leader, distances him/her self from former leaders, the party will not be in government.

I'm 18 so Miss W. was right in saying that the party views appeal to younger voters
Matt Sheringham, Wiltshire

A: I'm grateful to him for saying what he has said about the policies that I've put forward today.

As far as the past goes, every government is a development of the one that went before, whether it is a government of the opposing side or one from the same. We cannot fight write off as wholly without achievement the Major years. We certainly cannot afford to dismiss the enormous change that took place during the Thatcher years.

We cannot ignore those, but obviously neither can we be bound by them. As I said, we've got to fight the next election, we have to look for the future. When you look back over previous governments you understand the thread of history, it doesn't mean you have to be bound by it.

Q: Can we please choose a new leader. Otherwise we will never beat Tony Blair!
Dominic, London

A: I think he's wrong. William does beat Tony Blair about 80% of the time in the House of Commons quite decisively. That is well recognised by those who watch the House of Commons, but of course for the first two years nobody was going to be very interested in us anyway.

As they become more disillusioned with this government and more interested in what we have to offer, I think you'll see William come very much into his own and I think in a year's time people will wonder how we ever doubted it.

BBC News Online: What we will see tonight is people talking about Michael Portillo.

A: Well they may talk about Michael Portillo as, if you like, a returning MP and I sincerely hope he will return and I hope all able bodies who lost at the last election will come back. But I'm certainly not thinking about Michael Portillo in terms of the leadership, as you've implied, because we have a leader.

News Online: Given your views on homosexuality, would you be comfortable serving in a government under a prime minister who had admitted to having homosexual relationships?

A: I think we have to look at the facts of life. I have spent most of my time in politics serving on committees and I was working with people whose heterosexual practices I didn't approve of or whose homosexuals practices I didn't approve of.

There is nothing new in that. I don't judge people by their private lives. I think if I've got a view on the moral content I don't judge people on that, I judge people by their politics and of course by the electorate.

I take a view that we should promote the traditional family as the preferred social model. I have never suggested for one moment that we should persecute or outlaw other models, merely that we promote the preferred model, which would be the traditional family. I stand by that view absolutely.

As I say though throughout my life from time to time I've sometimes had to work with people who take a different view.

I will always serve any prime minister the Tory Party elects, quite regardless of whether I think that election is sensible or not. I have always been loyal to people. I was extremely loyal to John Major and I believe you respect the decision of the party.

If we're all going to around second guessing the party then we will never actually have our eyes focused on the bigger picture.

News Online: Do you think the Conservatives and the country also would be ready to elect a homosexual prime minister?

A: That's for them to decide. I cannot second guess that either.

Q: After watching both William Hague and Anne Widdecombe yesterday on the Sunday lunch time political point scoring round, I was amazed to hear both of them condone the past capers of the more than slippery candidate that they have voted in as Conservative nomination for London Mayor.

With no formal case of libel instigated by Lord Archer what next?
Peter Pritchett, north east

A: I did not condone certain activities which Lord Archer has in the past indulged in. I did not do that. What I said was, and this follows on from the last question, I recognise a democratic decision. London Tories have chosen on a democratic basis, which is certainly more than London socialists could do.

He has interesting and imaginative policies for London and I will go out and campaign for those policies.

News Online: Did you vote for him?

A: As a matter of fact I never got a vote. I should have. I've been a Lambeth Tory for years but I've recently moved and I think you'll probably find the vote is in my former home.

News Online: Would you have voted for him?

A: I can't say because obviously I didn't have to take the decision.

News Online: Is this a case of democracy not working?

A: I often don't approve of decisions in a democracy but one of the glories of democracy is that it has that effect and not everybody agrees with everybody else and not everybody has the same judgement and the democracy decides which shall prevail.

It may be sometimes an imperfect system, but it's the best system we have.

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