British Conservative politician, member of Parliament (MP) from 1987 for Maidstone (Maidstone and The Weald from 1997). She came to special prominence in 1995 when, as minister for prisons, she clashed with the then home secretary Michael Howard, questioning his integrity. After the Conservative defeat in the 1997 general election, she served in the shadow cabinet before returning to the backbenches in 2001. With a reputation for strong views, she is a committed opponent of abortion, euthanasia, and fox-hunting. She also converted to Catholicism in protest against the ordination of women in the Church of England. She stood down from Parliament at the 2010 general election.
From 1993 Widdecombe was undersecretary of state at the Department of Employment and then minister of state 1994–95. She was then appointed minister of state at the Home Office with responsibility for prisons and immigration. In 1998 she joined William Hague's shadow cabinet as health secretary, becoming shadow home secretary in 1999 until 2001, after which she retired to the backbenches. She has since featured prominently in the media and has published several novels.
Born in Bath, Widdecombe studied at Birmingham and Oxford Universities. From 1976 to 1978 she was a district councillor for Runnymede. She unsuccessfully contested the constituency of Burnley in the 1979 general election and then Plymouth Devonport in 1983 before taking Maidstone in 1987. In 1990 she was appointed parliamentary private secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and then undersecretary of state at the Department of Social Security where she specialized in pensions. Her controversial remarks about Michael Howard were believed to have damaged his bid for the Conservative Party leadership in 1997.