In February Niall McCrae reported on Trinity Mirror’s intended purchase of Express and Star Newspapers (a deal now under investigation by Ofcom). Niall’s article carried the headline ‘Don’t meddle with the doughty Express’ – an exhortation which, by adding three extra words, can usefully be adapted to: ‘Don’t meddle with the doughty Express columnist Ann Widdecombe’.
The woman who is accorded a full page each Wednesday was described by Niall as ‘irretrievably unfashionable’. Which is masterful understatement: with the exception of her implacable opposition to foxhunting, whatever the social issue, Ann Widdecombe can be relied upon vigorously to espouse a politically incorrect opinion.
I raise this because her column of May 2 contained several perspectives with which I concur but did not see set out by any other commentator. In particular, a section titled ‘A prize week for sentimental claptrap’ began: ‘Sorry, but there were three occasions last week when my reaction to an outpouring of sentiment was an exasperated harrumph.’ Leaving aside the non-story of Prince Charles not having seen his new grandson, Ann hit her stride by describing the coverage of Ruth Davidson’s pregnancy as ‘emotional goo . . . I hope the birth is straightforward and that the child has a happy life but I nevertheless have reservations about deliberately bringing a fatherless child into the world’.
Announcing that she is with child, Scottish Tory leader Davidson had stated: ‘It’s important people realise that [same-sex couples having children] happens and it’s completely normal’. Hmm.
In truth, unless Ruth Davidson and partner Jen Wilson have re-written the laws of biology, even in 2018 the artificial impregnation of one half of a lesbian couple cannot be labelled ‘normal’. Not that anyone would have known it from media coverage that generally gushed at this delightfully modern arrangement while also seeming oddly incurious regarding pertinent details, such as whether the ‘father’ is someone known to the couple or an anonymous donor.
Nor, as might have been expected, did this high-profile story spark any conspicuous debate over the morality of deliberately creating a fatherless child. Ann Widdecombe, though, is no doubt: ‘To design it that way seems wrong. Every child deserves a mummy and a daddy and I do not care tuppence how politically incorrect that makes me.’
This is a dissident view which, even today, many instinctively will share but now be extremely wary of articulating. The same is true of what Ann, in her next ‘harrumph’, heretically called ‘The nonsense of a national memorial day for Stephen Lawrence’. Acknowledging that ‘the young man died a tragic and cruel death which exposed some deep racism’, Widdecombe nevertheless scorned this risible attempt to exalt the slain Lawrence as our Martin Luther King.
This commemorative initiative by Theresa May arises from the almost inevitable twinning of contemporary obsessions with anti-racism and maudlin remembrance. According to the PM: ‘We will use this day to encourage and support young people in achieving their dreams, and to reflect on Stephen’s life, death and the positive change he has inspired.’ But given that the senseless murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 was appropriated by political opportunists and has directly led to the current judicial iniquities of ‘protected characteristics’ and ‘hate crime’, May’s claim of ‘positive change’ is tendentious at best. Designating April 22 to be annual Stephen Lawrence Day is, in the words of Ann Widdecombe, ‘a disproportionate reaction but very typical of the PM who just loves politically correct causes.’
From one column by Ann Widdecombe, two contumacious though entirely legitimate standpoints that will resonate, but which readers would have struggled to find from the compliant contributors to other mainstream publications.
Like or loathe her, at a time when permissible opinion has never been more constrained, politics is the poorer for the absence of Ann Widdecombe. She openly admits to having hoped for a peerage from David Cameron. If there must be an Upper Chamber, it is a great pity that since leaving the Commons in 2010 Widdecombe has spent considerable time on low-rent TV shows rather than being occupied in the Lords where her principled dissidence would, in contrast to the many appointees there on Buggins’ turn, be a genuine asset.
Instead, the platform for Ann’s maverick views remains her weekly column in the Daily Express. Although Trinity Mirror promised to maintain the paper’s identity, new editor Gary Jones has already told a select committee of MPs: ‘I’ve gone through a lot of former Express front pages and I felt very uncomfortable looking at them . . . some are just downright offensive.’ However else this milksop intends to ‘change the tone’, let us hope the unreconstructed perspectives of Ann Widdecombe continue to appear and that her distinctive voice remains heard.