Ann Widdecombe, vehement social conservative and reality TV fodder, has made it to the Celebrity Big Brother final. After a good run at Strictly in 2010 too (in spite of her dancing), it’s clear the British public finds something adorable about the former Tory politician.
At 70, her age may be proving part of her charm. Like an eccentric, mildly awkward old aunt, she stands out from her fellow inmates – a fish-out-of-water set-up that always has entertainment value.
But this means her long-held views against LGBT rights, which she has expressed to gay housemates, are brushed aside as the mildly embarrassing kooks of an elderly relative.
Fellow contestants Wayne Sleep and Amanda Barrie have defended Widdecombe, both suggesting that she’s more of a TV personality than a politician.
“She did Strictly Come Dancing, that is not a politician anymore,” said Sleep. “This is a little show which I adore being in and there’s a woman here and you want me to pick her up about her past misdemeanours that you don’t agree with?”
Barrie also took the ‘funny old lady’ line: “I think that anyone who has done Strictly Come Dancing or pantomime can’t be all bad.”
Ann Widdecombe clashes with Shane Jenek over equal marriage.
But Widdecombe shouldn’t be given a free pass by fellow housemates or her audience. She was once a very powerful woman, serving as prisons minister, shadow health secretary and shadow home secretary in her years as a Conservative MP from 1987-2010.
During her political career, she voted precisely zero times in favour of gay rights, opposing significant acts of legislation like civil partnerships, the Equality Act, repealing Section 28, reducing the age of consent for homosexual sex, and gay couples adopting.
Widdecombe left Parliament before the same-sex marriage bill, but expressed her opposition to it during a conversation with another housemate, Shane Jenek (better known as the Australian drag queen Courtney Act on RuPaul’s Drag Race), earlier this year.
“Marriage is a man and a woman,” she told him.
During a recent spat with Barrie (who is in a civil partnership) over Widdecombe’s views, Jenek argued: “In 23 years of parliament she voted against every single pro-LGBT piece of legislation, which is your rights as a human being.”
Shane Jenek and actor Amanda Barrie argue about Widdecombe’s views.
Widdecombe also recently called the plan to reform gender recognition rules in favour of trans rights “very, very bad news”, staunchly opposes abortion, has supported the death penalty, and claimed Harvey Weinstein sex assault victims “had a choice”. Bless ’er.
Both Widdecombe’s age and her new status as a comedy figure shouldn’t detract from the gravity and backwardness of her views. Let’s hope CBB viewers choose to evict them.