Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe was guest speaker at last night's Time4God session in Pimlico. Around 60 young people came to hear her speak about her life as a Catholic in politics. She said: "Very often people ask me how I can be a Christian and a politician, because Christianity sets out what is right and wrong very clearly, while politics is always a matter of compromise. I explain that in politics sometimes it's necessary to get to where one wants to be in small stages. For example in 1987, David Alton put forward a bill to limit the upper age of abortions to 18 weeks. It soon became apparent that this was not going to get past the second reading unless there was a clause allowing later abortions for babies that would be born handicapped. I looked at the figures and discovered that 92 per cent of abortions after 18 weeks were not carried out for this reason. Taking the shipwreck analogy that it was as if we only had enough enough lifeboats to rescue 92 out of a hundred people on a sinking ship, I voted for the bill. I felt it was a compromise but progress." Ms Widdecombe said she was often asked how she could stand the rowdy atmosphere in parliament but said: "I enjoy the arguing." She said some people claimed one political party was closer to Christian values than another. "I don't agree with that. There are different ways of reading the same Biblical text. Two parties will have two totally different interpretations." She explained: "Your job as a politician is to apply Gospel values to whatever you are doing. We are never obliged to vote on 'issues of conscience'; such as abortion, divorce, fox hunting and so on. Those all have a free vote. "There was an exception this week when the whip was put on us to vote over the issue of adoption by unmarried couples. But some who disagreed simply didn't come." "Being a politician is a most rewarding and satisfying career" she said. "One of the best things I ever did was to get a person out a Moroccan prison. It took 18 months. I talked to the King of Morocco, the justice minister, ambassadors but mostly God. I prayed very hard." "Politics is an honourable profession," she said. "I get very fed up with people saying it is a job for rogues. We perform a huge public service. No other job can have such a wide-ranging effect on the world. I have virtually no private life. Most politicians are very committed people." After her talk Ms Widdecombe took a number of questions from the audience. Ms Widdecombe said she wanted to be a politician since the age of 14 - when she thought politicians were all like Churchill. "By 20 I was more realistic . The world was a very different place then - very divided on ideological lines. I joined because I wanted to fight Socialism and after that cause was won, the enduring attraction has been the challenge of trying to solve insoluble problems." . Ms Widdecombe expressed concern at voter apathy in recent elections. "Most young people did not bother to use their first chance to vote, she said. "But we mustn't treat young people as different from anyone else. Their behaviour just reflects the general trend." On the reason she converted to Catholicism from the Anglican church in April 1993, she said that the Church of England's decision to ordain women had been the final straw: "I got fed up with the way they were sacrificing one principal after another. They had no view on abortion, embryology divorce. I wanted a church that took a strong line on these issues." The decision took four months. Ann Widdecombe said she had two doctrinal reservations: "Transubstantiation and the authority of Rome did not trouble me, but I was concerned over the sacrificial natural of the Mass and Purgatory. The late Cardinal Hume managed to wipe those problems away." When asked her views over the bombing of Afghanistan she said she was "wholeheartedly in favour." "One has to look at the outcome" she said. "Thousands of innocent people died on September 11. More would have been killed if we did not attack. "When should you take life? I believe it is justifiable to take life when it means saving more lives. The extreme pacifist view would say one should not kill someone in a plane who is about to bomb a city killing thousands, The opposite view is not to consider life important at all. I believe in reality we are stuck somewhere in the middle. And there are exceptions. I would say it is justifiable to perform an abortion if the continued pregnancy would kill the mother. "I also think the death penalty is justifiable if it works as a deterrent thereby saving lives. "The God of the New Testament is not mealy mouthed. Doesn't it say anyone who harms a child should be drowned with a millstone round their neck?". Asked whether there was a Biblical text that summed up her life Ms Widdecombe said: "I would choose St Paul's: 'We believe as we speak", and "I'm not going to put my light under a bushel." Time4God meets on the third Sunday of each month. For details see the Links pages.
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