By Humphrey Carter
ANNE Widdecombe, the Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald gave members of British Conservatives Abroad an “upward and onward” message over dinner in Majorca last night, probably her last as an MP. Widdecombe will not be standing for reelection at the next general election in two years time after having decided last year to bring the curtain down on what will be 23 years as a Member of Parliament. Widdecombe prides herself on being honest and straight talking and this week hit the headlines when she voted in favour of the Labour government's 42-day pre-charge detention limit for terror suspects. The controversial win by nine votes provoked the resignation of David Davis from his post as Shadow Home Secretary who intends to fight on the issue of civil liberties in a by-election.

Why did Widdecombe back the government?
AW: “Because, I do think that when there is an emergency, terrorism is obviously an emergency, that any government, no matter which party it is, should be able to ask Parliament for extraordinary powers and, providing those powers are first of all reserved powers, which this is, it is not an automatic standard, and secondly that the powers are renewable and revisable, then I think in those circumstances Parliament should grant them.

It's what we (the Conservative government) did year-on-year in Northern Ireland. We had the Prevention of Terrorism act. We did everything including internment. So, I don't really think you can say this is a departure and a loss of our liberties.”

DB: Some pundits have said this is similar to internment.
AW: It's not because it's not an automatic standard, it's a reserved power and therefore has to go before a judge, there are all manner of safeguards, so many some people have said there are so many safe guards in the system, you might as well not have the power. There's enough there to satisfy me that it is not going to be used wantonly and that's the crux of liberty - whether you shut people up wantonly or whether you do so after due process.

DB: Is the terror threat in Britain so severe to warrant such action?
AW: For anybody who remembers July 7 isn't going to tell you it's a minor thing. It's amazing how short some people's memories are. We lost large number of people going to work, doing nothing more than that. It (the attack) was very, very highly organised and the idea that the terrorists are simply going to shrug and say ‘well we're not going to do that again' is folly. This is the same generation which remembers the IRA, as I physically do. There were times, some quite lengthy, of no action at all and then there was something quite big.

DB: Was David Davis's decision a stunt or is he serious.
AW: I wouldn't call it a stunt but for it to be serious it does actually need proper opposition and I thing there's a question mark over whether he will get that. I also think his overarching thesis has got to be right which is seen as mass state incursion into people's lives. Wheelie bins with microchips, hate crime has restricted freedom of speech, CCTV cameras in place for revenue as opposed to public safety... the sheer amount of surveillance and intrusion is huge and I don't think many people in Britain would deny that. But I think to choose the 42-day issue as one's starting point is not as wise as it might be and I think the question is going to be about fighting on the bigger picture (public intrusion and civil liberties), which is the one he's painted, or not and that will be the challenge. I don't support his view on the 42-days, but I do on the bigger picture it could develop into a very significant debate.

DB: If he manages it right, could this become a referendum on civil liberties?
AW: If he tries to turn it into a referendum on 42 days, that would be unfortunate, because most people, according opinion polls anyway, believe that the government should have those powers. But, if he could turn it in to a referendumate incursion into people's lives. Wheelie bins with microchips, hate crime has restricted freedom of speech, CCTV cameras in place for revenue as opposed to public safety... the sheer amount of surveillance and intrusion is huge and I don't think many people in Britain would deny that. But I think to choose the 42-day issue as one's starting point is not as wise as it might be and I think the question is going to be about fighting on the bigger picture (public intrusion and civil liberties), which is the one he's painted, or not and that will be the challenge. I don't support his view on the 42-days, but I do on the bigger picture it could develop into a very significant debate.

DB: If he manages it right, could this become a referendum on civil liberties?
AW: If he tries to turn it into a referendum on 42 days, that would be unfortunate, because most people, according opinion polls anyway, believe that the government should have those powers. But, if he could turn it in to a referendum on something into people's lives. Wheelie bins with microchips, hate crime has restricted freedom of speech, CCTV cameras in place for revenue as opposed to public safety... the sheer amount of surveillance and intrusion is huge and I don't think many people in Britain would deny that. But I think to choose the 42-day issue as one's starting point is not as wise as it might be and I think the question is going to be about fighting on the bigger picture (public intrusion and civil liberties), which is the one he's painted, or not and that will be the challenge. I don't support his view on the 42-days, but I do on the bigger picture it could develop into a very significant debate.

DB: If he manages it right, could this become a referendum on civil liberties?
AW: If he tries to turn it into a referendum on 42 days, that would be unfortunate, because most people, according opinion polls anyway, believe that the government should have those powers. But, if he could turn it in to a referendum on something much bigger and broader, such as sate intrusion. Full stop. Then it could become very interesting indeed and if he goes for the bigger picture, then I will cheer him on.

BD: Has this done any damage to the Conservative Party's surge forward?
AW: I don't think it will have any impact on the next general election, we are two years away and we're doing well. I do think it is unfortunate in as much as it takes the spotlight away from Labour and puts it back on us, but, as I say, if he can focus the debate on the bigger picture the spotlight might come to be welcomed.

DB: Lately, there have been a few question marks over funding and miss spending, has this derailed the Conservative Party's push forward?
AW: No, we haven't been derailed at all. I don't think the electorate is so naive that they think these kinds of things are confined to one party. Nor do you condemn everybody because one of two have done something that they shouldn't have done. You don't condemn the entire medical profession because of Harold Shipman, you don't condemn all teachers because of a handful of peadophiles. In every barrel there are a few rotten components, but it does not follow that everybody's going to do it.

DB: Is Britain desperate for change?
AW: I certainly think that Britain is in the mood for change. I think the country is very disillusioned. We're not going through a very happy time at the moment. I think people would welcome change but I would not yet quite describe it as despair, although that may come.

DB: A couple of months ago Michael Portillo told this newspaper that he believes Gordon Brown is going to see it through to the next election, fight on and possibly win.
AW: I don't think he's going to win the election, that would be living in cloud cookoo land, but I do share Michael's judgment that Brown will probably stay the course. Would Labour really want an internal upheaval? I think the answer is no. So, he'll limp on, he won't march on, until the end.

DB: Where do you think it all went wrong for Labour?
AW: It's a very good question because sometimes I scratch my head and wonder. When you think this is the man who robbed the pension system and destroyed a lot of people's old age. Think of all the things this government has done and people still just went on voting for them but then Gordon Brown dithered, and did dither, over a snap Autumn election last year and suddenly the entire nation turned against him. We were ahead in the polls at the time, but not the huge and sustained margins we have enjoyed since. I find it odd that the public put up with so many questionable decisions but was not able to put up with dithering over an election, It seems to me to be a very odd order of priorities.

DB: Do you think Cameron and the Conservatives will be able to sustain their momentum?
AW: Yes. I think all the signs are there. If you think back to the last years of the last Conservative government, most people thought we had simply been there too long. It wouldn't have mattered what we had done and I don't think Labour have got a hope of clinging on to power. We've been popular before but haven't had an impact, this time it's different. Cameron has won people over.

DB: What has Cameron brought to the table?
AW: He played a very clever game for the first couple of years he talked about virtually nothing except things like the Environment. He left the tougher things which meant that by the time he did come to talk about tougher topics, people couldn't say ‘oh, but that's all the Tories are interested in'. He's also young and fresh and untainted by any former administration and people are ready for change. The whole thing slowly adds up.

DB: Do you think Blair did some irreparable damage to Britain?
AW: Inevitable, any government in power for such a length of time is going to do things which are not easy to reverse. We can't reverse the break up of the United Kingdom, we can't recover all the opt-outs we lost from Europe.

Repairing the damage he did to the education system is going to pose a major challenge. Reestablishing law and order, stopping family breakdown, cultural integration, free speech, these are just some of the areas which need to be addressed, repaired and resolved. But it's not going to happen by Wednesday afternoon. Some may need shock tactics and others a more gradual and long term, approach. We must also stop the incursion of the state into people' s lives.

DB: Why has the Labour government invested so much time and money into “state incursion”, building what some call “the nanny state”?
AW: What did Socialism used to be? It used to be the control of the economic state. Britain comprehensively rejected that and Blair understood. Labour have embraced privatization of the economy and all that on a very large scale, a scale once unthinkable. So where now does the power of the state lie? If it does not lie in economic control, it has to lie in social control. And that's what all this is about. Today, you may be confronted by the police on your doorstep, not for something you have done, but for something you may have said.

DB: Has Britain become a split society?
AW: I would not say it is a split society, rather splitting.
There is a tendency towards pockets, pockets of Islam, pockets of this and that as opposed to greater integration. Somehow we've got to the point where we think diversity is people setting themselves apart and it shouldn't be.

DB: Religion is very important to you but that does not appear to be playing much of role in Britain, Western religions at least.
AW: No. It's a highly secular community and what religion there is, is multi faith. The Christian religion now has to struggle to be heard when once it was taken for granted that is was prevailing view.

All the hate laws have actually made active Christianity quite difficult, people are afraid of the law.
DB. Do you regret your decision to stand down at the next election?
AW: No. No

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