The news that Ann Widdecombe now supports the Brexit Party isn’t really news at all. It was reported in the Daily Express, for which she writes a column, earlier this month.
It is news, though, that “I am standing for the Brexit Party in order that I may campaign vigorously and convince my fellow voters that this time it is imperative to fire a very loud warning shot across the bows of the parties they normally support”, as the Daily Telegraph, inter alia, reports today.
The Telegraph‘s account says lower in the story that she will “aim to stand”. But ConservativeHome is told that she will be number one on the new party’s South-West region list, where she will be up against Andrew Adonis for Labour and Carl Benjamin of UKIP: quite some contest. The news was apparently lined up by the party to be announced later today. But she appears to have jumped the gun.
And her departure, at least for this set of elections, will have an impact. Unlike Stephen Dorrell, who also changed parties recently (he has joined Change UK) she neither made Cabinet nor contested the Tory leadership. But she is a more wave-making figure altogether, since she perhaps is the only Conservative, other than Boris Johnson, to be a celebrity. Admittedly, the youngest tranche of voters may not know who she is. But that is not the group from which Conservative activists are predominately drawn.
Unlike Johnson, however, she is not controversial (or rather, she is no longer so). The passage of time and Strictly Come Dancing have helped to transform her from frontline politician to that very rare thing: a “national treasure” – a status that one must be of a certain age to gain.
Twenty years or so ago, however, she was an icon in an internal culture war. Michael Portillo represented social liberalism; she represented social conservatism. Some of those who were Party members then are still so now, and identify with her outlook and values.
In short, her declaration will further legitimise the Brexit Party among a slice of Conservative Party members – buttressing a sense for them that the former is a safe and respectable option – for the European elections, anyway.