ConservativeHome is half way through our search for one hundred peers. Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute was the final nominee in the first tranche. Jonathan Isaby is pausing while more nominations are collected and we will resume the feature shortly.
One decision we took was not to include sitting MPs in the nomination process but I'm going to make an exception today. I heard some gossip - and it is only gossip - that Ann Widdecombe was unlikely to be nominated for a peerage.
It's true that Miss Widdecombe has sometimes made herself unpopular with the current leadership - not least over the A-list. Many activists don't like her views on foxhunting and her attacks on Michael Howard were regrettable but I still think she deserves a place in the Upper House.
Here are a few reasons:
- An MP since 1987 she was a very effective Government Minister at the end of the Major years. She will be the most senior female Tory retiring at the next General Election (although she'd hate the idea of being put in the Lords because of her gender!).
- In our darkest, earliest hours of opposition she lifted morale. From the backbenches she led the onslaught against Tony Blair at PMQs. Those feisty performances led William Hague to bring her on to the frontbench. Her speeches at Party Conference when she was Shadow Health Secretary and Shadow Home Secretary were enormous treats for activists.
- She is only 61. She has the health and spirit to make an active contribution to the Upper House.
- Tony Benn divides the world of politicians into weather vanes and signposts. Miss Widdecombe is definitely a signpost. She is unafraid to say what she thinks in an age when too many politicians won't move until they've seen what an opinion poll thinks they should say. Her straight-talking is one of the reasons why she is such a popular figure in the country. She writes a weekly column for The Express. People like her candour even when they disagree with her views.
- The House of Lords would benefit from her socially conservative, Catholic voice. Her views on the family and her campaigning for the unborn are supported by millions of Britons. Those Britons deserve formidable representatives in the Lords. A Baroness Widdecombe would be such a representative.
- She continues to work hard for the party to this day. A little research has led me to discover that Ann Widdecombe still attends two or more events per week in the support of our party. Just ask Mark Coote in Cheltenham, Andy Stephenson in Pendle, Nigel Adams in Selby, Mel Stride in Central Devon, Robert Buckland in Swindon South, Conor Burns in Bournemouth West, Mark Reckless in Rochester and Strood. The list is a long one...
I've often said that David Cameron should show generosity towards parliamentarians who have sometimes crossed him and it would be a unifying, statesmanlike gesture for him to put Ann Widdecombe on the red benches.
PS And for the suspicious readers out there I have had no contact with Ann Widdecombe in the preparation of this post!