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The public are being taught to see us as villains'

PUBLISHED: 17:33 20 May 2009 | UPDATED: 10:05 12 August 2010

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CONSERVATIVE MP and television personality Anne Widdecombe told an audience the problem with the parliamentary expenses system stems from the way it has been policed. The Maidstone and the Weald MP gave a 45-minute talk, followed by a question and answe

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CONSERVATIVE MP and television personality Anne Widdecombe told an audience the problem with the parliamentary expenses system stems from the way it has been policed.

The Maidstone and the Weald MP gave a 45-minute talk, followed by a question and answer session and book signing at St George's Church in Beckenham High Street last Wednesday evening as part of the St George's Arts Festival.

Dressed in turquiose, Miss Widdecombe sat in a brown leather armchair next to the altar and spoke about her political life, writing career and television appearances.

She delivered anecdotes to a silver-haired audience about her time as Prisons Minister and fielded questions about MPs' expenses, her cats and whether she would ever go blonde again.

On MPs' expenses, the Celebrity Fit Club contestant said: "One of the problems has been not so much the system but the way it has been policed.

"A system that was designed to be flexible and which was created in the days when our allowance was poor, has grown over the years and is used to maximise personal gain by a small minority, and it is a small minority. It is slightly larger than I thought it was but it is still the minority.

"Most MPs aren't implicated in this at all but the public are being taught to see us as villains.

"We should wait for Sir Christopher Kelly to make his recommendations and then decide if we should follow them. If we were wiser and cooler- headed we would wait for that. Some very bad legislation has been the result of panicking."

There was applause and laughter when the Celebrity Fit Club contestant was asked if there was anybody she admired from the other main parties.

She said: "When I sit in the House there is one that I look at on the Labour bench and admire - David Blunket's guide dog."

Miss Widdecombe was scornful of what she called "state intrusion" into people's lives, adding: "Even George Orwell and all his imagination didn't manage to come up with microchips in wheelie bins. You have the state in your rubbish.

"You have the state up your light bulbs. The idea that by changing your light bulb you can make one iota of difference to climate change is like throwing a sugar cube into Loch Ness and saying 'I've sweetened the water'."

The only mild controversy of the evening occurred in an answer to whether she still believes women priests are wrong.

Miss Widdecombe left the Church of England and became a Roman Catholic in 1993 following a decision by the General Synod, the Anglican parliament, to allow their ordinance.

Several members of the congregation disagreed when she reaffirmed her views at St George's where Reverend Margaret Tremeer works.

Speaking after the evening, Rev. Tremeer said: "I was ordained in South Africa in 1990 where there was no opposition to me becoming a priest. Had I been in this country I might not have been ordained because I don't believe in splitting the church.

"It is one of the greatest sins but I felt that I had a calling.

"As it has been proved, people who have not liked the idea of women priests have been converted once they experience one and they accept it. Her comments didn't offend me."

A member of her congregation, Tessa Harper, agreed, adding: "Margaret is 10 times better than the men. She is the best priest ever, absolutely lovely."

katherine.nelson@archant.co.uk

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