One of these is in the House of Lords and oughtn’t to be; and one isn’t but really, really ought to be. One wonders why.
Michelle Mone OBE (left) is probably a very nice, capable and talented woman. She obviously has fine taste in lingerie. According to her website, she is “one of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs.. a shining example of how spirit and determination can lead to global success”. This is very good: the UK needs talented entrepreneurs, and moreso when they are pleasant to behold. But we also need peers who can scrutinise, interrogate and improve legislation; not simply those who will follow the party whip because they owe the Prime Minister one.
Ann Widdecome (right) doesn’t even have an MBE to her name. She is a ‘Dame’, but that was bestowed by Pope Benedict XVI for her faithful and charitable services; not by the Prime Minister for her decades of public service.
She might ruffle a few feathers, put spanners in works, get under one’s skin and be a general thorn in the side, but pearls need grit and mills need grist. It’s a legislator’s job to analyse, probe and persuade. In the Upper House, we need peers with the ability to spot deficiency and, without fear or favour, to warn of sin or stain.
Ann Widdecombe has her detractors: they are legion. She is opposed to abortion and is therefore a ‘religious extremist’; in an era of inviolable gay rights and moral relativism, she opposes same-sex marriage and asserts unpalatable truths about the meaning of ‘family’. Unlike most of her party, she favours the ban on hunting with hounds. And she isn’t afraid occasionally to criticise her own party (or leader), which is viewed by many as an unforgivable disloyalty.
But her experience and effectiveness in government; her conviction; her witness to her faith; her enormous efforts for charity; her untiring (and ongoing) work for the Conservative Party; her ability to raise troop morale; her preparedness to confront the zeitgeist; her tenacity… She manifestly has enormous integrity and bucket-loads of principles. She is credible, moral and authoritative, and she enriches public life.
Frankly, Ann Widdecombe should be elevated to the Lords if only to challenge ubiquitous Christianity-lite and confront a few tedious bishops.
Of this most recent list of Tory peers, Paul Goodman wrote on ConHome that it “lacks vision, imagination, and feeling for the wider Conservative family”. Given some of these ennoblements (among many others of recent times), one wonders if an elevation of this kind might not now constitute something of an insult. Given the (mostly) unfavourable media attention the Upper House seems to attract, Ann Widdecombe might make better use of her talents and time in walking another path.
Yet she has made it known that such a platform would enhance the work of those charities which she supports: it is not a case of her having been offered a peerage and politely declined. Wouldn’t the elevation of Ann Widdecombe enhance the essential moral integrity and political credibility of Parliament?
If Conservatism is to remain a ‘broad church’, then space must be found for Baroness Widdecombe. If that church is to become insular and narrow, one alienates either the conservative wing or the liberal wing and ends up with a dismembered body of political extremists of one faction or the other. It is, after all, possible to be a fundamentalist relativist liberal.
The Conservative Party has been forever changing and never dogmatic. It is, in part, for that reason that its relationship with the Church of England has been natural and organic. If the Conservative Party is to continue to speak to every constituency of the United Kingdom, it must perpetuate its own via media. This is not a fudged compromise; it is the reality of living in a pluralist liberal democracy in which one has to be all things to all people.
Baroness Widdecombe articulates for the essential social conservatism of ‘middle England’. Alienate those, and the Conservative Party ceases to be anything. And if you cram the Lords with placemen and toadies, no matter how glamorous, it, too, ceases to be anything.