STEVE ANGLESEY looks at Ann Widdecombe’s transition from reality TV personality to Brexit party candidate and names another Brexiteer of the Week.
When Ann Widdecombe stepped off the reality show treadmill to announce she would stand as a Brexit Party candidate in the European elections, a news host dared to ask if her television activities meant she could still be considered a serious politician.
An impertinent question for a woman who has enlivened important telly like Sugar-Free Farm, Tipping Point: Lucky Stars, Strictly, Cleverdicks, The Sooty Show, Celebrity Antiques Road Trip, Celebrity Fit Farm, Celebrity Big Brother and, erm, The Execution Of Gary Glitter. But one Ann was ready to tackle. ‘Don’t think for a minute’ that I haven’t been active, she protested. ‘I write every week in the Daily Express!’
It is a funny old world indeed in which being the author of a Daily Express column can be offered as a sign that one is a heavyweight political commentator.
Under new and far better leadership, the paper has thankfully stopped bashing immigrants, inventing heatwaves and using the late Princess of Wales as a marketing tool. But it still publishes some extraordinary guff about Brexit.
Most notably this comes from Widdecombe’s columnist colleagues Leo ‘Brexit Dalek’ McKinstry, octogenarian author Freddie Forsyth (who last year suggested elsewhere that nurses and teachers openly supporting Remain should be sacked) and Richard Madeley, who wrote in April that he was sick and tired of Remainers crying on TV – surprising, since the actual number of times Remainers have cried on TV can be counted on the fingers of one hand, as long as the hand belongs to Abu Hamza.
Their work and Ann’s can be found on the Express website, nestling close to stories like ‘Garden of Eden found?’, ‘Madeleine McCann found?’ and ‘Man with biggest penis in world registered DISABLED as HALF METRE member needs OWN PILLOW’. Here are some Widdecombe highlights from the past 12 months:
March 13, 2019: Though she deplores Amber Rudd’s Brexit stance, Ann leaps to the work and pensions secretary’s defence over her use of the word ‘coloured’. She writes: ‘Most of us use language which is the product of our generation. That chap in the woodpile still causes trouble for a certain age group even though none of them would ever dream of using the N-word in any other way.
‘When I was growing up, gay was an adjective you applied to Easter bonnets… A slut was a slovenly woman whose house was dirty. A glory hole was a cupboard under the stairs full of junk but, as I found out on Celebrity Big Brother, it has a somewhat less homely meaning now.’
January 30, 2019: Ann tiptoes around the sensitive issue of the overweight. ‘We should be saying to the hugely obese, take out your own health insurance, pay for more than one seat if you need it and make your own vast clothes and if you find all that too costly or demanding then stop stuffing,’ she declares.
Widdecombe also reveals what she considers as one of the factors wrecking the modern House of Commons: Women she doesn’t agree with. ‘We have too many dense flibbertigibbets,’ she says.
January 16, 2019: Anna Soubry needs to stop making a fuss about being harassed and barracked on her way into the Commons, claims Ann in a piece headlined ‘I have every sympathy but Anna Soubry should take it like a man’. She writes: ‘The photos which appeared in the press do not look as if she is being threatened as such. Indeed in some she is smiling… Above all she should stop complaining that it was all because she is a woman. The guys get barracked and jostled too.’
December 26, 2018: Ann is full of festive cheer. ‘Some poor mites will have had a rotten Christmas,’ she declares. ‘Perhaps their parents got drunk and rowed or they were abused by a family member or they were injured in some terrible accident or Granny died on Christmas eve. I can only pray 2019 will bring them some happiness.’
December 12, 2018: Ann has no time for ‘lunatics’ who dislike Sleeping Beauty because the original 14th century version sees a passing king rape and impregnate the sleeping princess. ‘It is a fairy tale, not a manual for modern living,’ she writes. ‘Anyway if I had a choice between sleeping on for ever or being woken by a kiss from the man I loved and wanted to marry, I would consider it a no-brainer but some cranky MeToo types think otherwise.’
August 22, 2018: Ann uses the death of author VS Naipaul to ruminate on celebrity abusers in a piece headlined ‘Judge them by their art, not their acts’. She declares: ‘William Golding gave us Lord Of The Flies but after his death it emerged from his own private papers that he had once tried to rape a teenager. Rolf Harris entertained an entire nation with his quirky art but we all know what he did.
‘Naipaul himself admitted to beating his mistress so badly that she could not leave the house. The work of all these people will live on, however ghastly their deeds… And that is how it should be.’
May 30, 2018: Ann equates the liberalisation of abortion law in Ireland with Nazism. ‘The losers in the Irish abortion referendum were not members of the No campaign but thousands of unborn children who now have no civil rights and no legal protection,’ she says. ‘That it was an exercise in democracy is beyond doubt but so was the election of Hitler.’
April 25, 2018: Meghan Markle gets it in the neck for supporting gay rights. ‘Royals don’t champion ‘rights’: they champion plights,’ writes an indignant Ann. ‘That is what Diana did with victims of Aids and landmines and very effective she was too. Rights are the business of politicians and pressure groups and never more so than when they are controversial.’
Of course, gay rights are not ‘controversial’. Neither is a woman’s right to choose. Nor is it ‘controversial’ to be sensitive about racist language, or to believe that being obese is not all the fault of the obese, or to believe MPs have the right to go about their business unimpeded.
Among Ann Widdecombe’s many reality TV credits is 24 Hours in the Past; in her case 100 Years in the Past might have been more like it.
BREXITEERS OF THE WEEK
4. Tony Parsons
The veteran columnist and author has joined the growing ranks of Brexiteers who admit that if no-deal is not a possibility, their next-best option would be remaining in the European Union. ‘They can keep their fake Brexit. I would rather we stay inside the EU and run the thing,’ he wrote in the Sun On Sunday.
But what a journey Parsons took his readers on before arriving at that conclusion! Beginning by noting that in the 1970s, Stiff Records’ slogan was ‘If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a f**k’, he continued: ‘I have grown to feel exactly the same way about Brexit… Brexit should be about passion.
‘As Stiff Records suggested, you need blood-gorged conviction… What Tezza and Jezza offer will be a limp, flaccid, embarrassingly droopy little thing.’ As is common with so many men his age, is Tony suffering from Ebrextile Dysfunction?
3. Claire Fox
Question Time and Moral Maze controversialist Fox might be regretting her decision to stand for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the North West England constituency, which includes Warrington.
Fox, now of the self-styled Institute of Ideas, was a leading member of the Revolutionary Communist Party in March 1993, when an IRA bomb exploded in the Cheshire town, killing three-year-old Johnathan Ball and 12-year-old Tim Parry. AN RCP newsletter published days later defended ‘the right of the Irish people to take whatever measures necessary in their struggle for freedom’.
Fox has made a lucrative media career out of defending the indefensible – she recently claimed that the government should not ban people from watching child porn and Jihadi videos online – but let’s see her try to get out of this one.
2. Conor Burns
Yet despite Tony Parsons’ wobbles, there is no doubting some Brexiteers’ stiffness of resolve. Having declared in March that he was deleting Twitter from his phone until ‘Brexit is done’, the member for Bournemouth West returned on April 22 with a pensive seaside photo and the words: ‘Having spent the last 11 days in Bournemouth and been out every day except Good Friday and Easter Sunday canvassing and delivering for our Council candidates there is a lot to think about as I prepare to return to Westminster tomorrow. Things can’t go on as they are.’
The inference was that Burns might be considering a move against Theresa May or even a switch to the Brexit Party. But all that was lost when Twitter noticed an unfortunate detail in his portrait.
‘I hate to break it to you but this otherwise poignant photograph is ruined by the camera angle, which makes it look like you have an erection,’ tweeted one concerned follower. Another said simply: ‘He’s got a Brexit boner.’
1. John Rhys-Davies
The actor who played warrior dwarf Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy put on a pompous, hectoring Question Time performance which made you root for Sauron. He yelled ‘oh, woman!’ at Caroline Lucas when they disagreed over the Trump state visit, and was allowed a three-minute Brexit rant about MPs who ‘have betrayed democracy’.
No doubt the 74-year-old, who could not vote in the referendum because he lives in tax haven the Isle of Man, feels the same way about Brexit as his character did about a daring mission in The Return of the King: ‘Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?’
Rhys-Davies got a poor review from fellow thespian Kim Durham, who appeared alongside him in 1987 TV movie Marjorie And The Preacher Man. Kim wrote on Twitter: ‘Nearly every actor I’ve known has been generous and supportive. One of the v few that wasn’t was John Rhys-Davies. Selfish, boorish and deliberately trying to diminish another actor’s perf. Now he’s on Question Time – still a shit.’