Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fisk: Why Ann Widdecombe Should Go to the Vatican

I don't know who Andrew Brown is, but I have just read his ridiculous blog on the Guardian website which asserts that Ann Widdecombe is wholly unsuited to be the British Ambassador to the Vatican because, er, he doesn't really like her. Personally I can think of no one better for the position, and if it offered to her I hope she accepts.

You see, Andrew Brown doesn't think Ann Widdecombe can be a diplomat because, er, she tends to say what she thinks. As if that were a fault. What he fails to understand is that she understands the concept of collective responsibility and mission fulfillment. No ambassador is there to represent themselves. They are there to represent Her Britannic Majesty. Widdecombe is perfectly capable of articulating views she may not agree with - she did that often enough while a Home Office Minister and in William Hague's Shadow Cabinet. I feel in the mood for a fisk... (my comments in red italics). Brown writes...

The British ambassador to the Holy See is someone whose job is to understand and mutually interpret the attitudes of the Vatican and the British government and to broaden their mutual sympathy. I can't easily imagine Widdecombe expressing anyone else's opinions, yet that is one of the central skills of diplomacy.
Piffle. Just because Brown can't imagine Widdecombe taking a brief, it doesn't mean that she can't. Indeed, history demonstrates she can. She can be as diplomatic as anyone if it is required. And I'd like to see anyone better places to understand and intepret the attitudes of the Vatican and be able to convey them back to the Foreign Office.
Purely as a piece of symbolism, there is something in this appointment to upset most people.
For 'most people, read 'most Guardian readers'.
For the Vatican, there is the fact of a woman who won't hesitate to tell them what to do;
Oh really? Widdecombe may be many things but she's not thick. She will completely realise thaty telling the Vatican want to do isn't part of the job descroption of a British ambassador.
but she won't, when she does so, be representing any significant strand of British opinion.
Says who? A man who thinks he represents a significant strand of British opinion - in Islington.
Since she left the Church of England in principled disagreement over women priests, she clearly represents a minority opinion among British Christians.
Does she? She represents many Anglicans who despair at the way their own church is going. And she also represents hundreds of thousands of British Catholics.
Her contempt for Anglicanism doesn't really fit her to explain the religious landscape of this country.
I know from personal discussion with her that she feels absolutely no contempt for Anglicanism. She left the Anglican church out of conviction. That does not mean she is contemptuous of it.
For secularists she is anyway anathema, rather like the post she is proposed to fill.
Another outrageous and unjustified assertion. I know many people of no religion who greatly admire Ann for the strength of her convictions. I am one of them.
Within the Catholic church, as a prominent straight single lay conservative, she forms part of a minority of, oh, about two.
I think that was a passing attempt at satirical humour. Best he doesn't try that too often if it is as incisive as this example.
She is certainly not the candidate of the Bishops' conference,
Well if Brown is so well informed about the Bishops' wishes, perhaps he'd share with us who their candidate is. He can't because hasn't got a clue. And why should an ambassador be appointed by virtue of whether they are approved of by bishops?
but she has also been attacked by the conservative Damian Thompson, who calls her the rudest woman in Britain, and the liberal circles around the Tablet think she would be a catastrophe.
Liberal circles around Islington, he means. And Damian Thompson thinks she's the rudest person he's met. He should get out more. David Aaronovitch is one of the rudest people I have met. But I think he probably make quite a good ambassador.
This is not an appointment that could be made by anyone who thought Britain's relationship with the Vatican was something that really mattered. After all, Melanie Phillips is not going to be our ambassador in Washington.
Ooh, another lame attempt at humour designed to persuade Guardianistas that Ann Widdecombe really is the spawn of Satan. Don't worry, Andrew, they already think that anyway without any help from your poisonous little keyboard.
Now it may well be that the whole thing is a joke, a rumour got up to please her. She must fancy the job or she would have denied the stories more vehemently than has happened. The superficial advantage for the British government of having her as ambassador in Rome is that she would be in Rome, and not underemployed in the House of Lords. But no one in the House of Lords can make very much trouble, whereas diplomats who can't manage diplomacy can damage their country's interests.
Facile. It is usually the House of Lords which causes trouble for most governments. As for the last comment about diplomacy, this is one sentence where Brown and I can agree. Where we disagree is thaat Ann Widdecombe is perfectly capable of using diplomacy to achieve positive ends. She always says that her proudest moment in politics is when she freed a constituent from prison in Morocco. By which she means she got him out, she didn't spring him. This involved delicate and diplomatic negotiations with the Moroccan government, all carried out by her in her capacity as an MP, not a Minister. She even travelled to Rabatt twice, at her own expense, to do it. Don't insult her by saying she is not capable of diplomatic achievement. This case (which I have considerably shortened in description) is proof of that.
There is only one decent argument for her appointment: even though she's an amateur, she can't be less diplomatic than the supposed professionals who produced the memo suggesting that the Pope endorse a brand of condoms when they were asked to plan for his visit. Nor is she likely to run off with a journalist or even a gogo dancer as recent ambassadors elsewhere have done.
But wouldn't it be great if she did? (I knew you;d enjoy reading that bit, Ann!).
But if we are to have an ambassador to the Vatican at all, we should have one who knows something about diplomacy, and not just foreign policy.
And we will. So all is right with the world and God will be in her heaven.


Simon Gardner said...

I read Andrew Brown. It's always highly entertaining - for us atheists.

He's completely demented and an excellent advert for religion in general and the Catholic church in particular.

One does wonder why The Telegraph employs him but maybe they have a secret agenda to do down god-bothery too. In which case, hooray for that.

Ean Craigie said...

Hear hear Iain, my real concern about her going to the vatican is that it robs us of one of the few principled politcal leaders we have left. I have looked forward with great relish to her discussions from the outside, I assume to be published by someone we know??

HampsteadOwl said...

I can't decide whether I find it presumptuous, sinister or simply hilarious that the Godless heathens of the Guardianista classes should have an opinion about Britain's relations with the Vatican whatsoever. With the possible exception of Chris Patten, who on earth reads the Guardian gives a toss?

That said, the way you build her up, I seriously wonder if the Pope shouldn't be considering appointing an ambassador to Ann Widdecombe.

Brian said...

Let's save money and not have an ambassador to the Vatican, the ABC can deal with the Pope on religious matters. Come to think of it, with all the EU meetings why do we need an ambassador to Italy?

Anonymous said...

"One does wonder why The Telegraph employs him " --- because the Telegraph is a bag of crap. Pity The Times is disappearing behind a fire wall and an even bigger pity that I am not a multi billionaire who could buy the odious Barclay brothers out.

Torres who was one of the best strikers in the premier League has been just taken off by Spain and hey presto they score a goal.

Who says the Premier League does not drain players white?

An BTW (2) - I am the rudest person I know.

Paul Halsall said...

The shock will be - an actual virgin in the Vatican.

Look, I oppose this Tory government, but its Vatican policy should be one of respectful distance. Respect for the Catholic faith (which I hold), but also distance, because we (as a country expressed in our elected reps) do not agree with Rome about lots of things.

Ann Widdecombe will probably drive them crazy in Rome.

Send her.

Mwmbwls said...

How is Miss Widdecombe's Latin?

as long as she bones up on:
"Legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad mentiendum rei publicae causa".
she'll do just fine.

Bob Latchford said...

I am drawn only to Frankie Boyles quite wonderful joke about Anne Widdecombe....

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Just asking ...

Why do we need a representative to the Vatican? We've got a perfectly good Embassy, barely a mile away across the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele, in Via XX Septembre. In these straitened times, can't they double-job?

My guess is there are more British interests in Monaco, and they have to cope with a mere Honorary Consulate.

Ian M said...

and talking about plitical/diplomatic appointments, what's the latest news of Jack McConnell MSP being the High Commissioner in Nyasaland sorry Malawi

Anonymous said...

Re your twitter headline, I am very hopeful that Ed Balls will win the labour leadership.

Is it too much to expect him to appoint Brown as shadow chancellor?

I presume it is the Balls camp who have told Brown to keep out of parliament until the election is over

JohnRS said...

The sooner The Graun goes behind a paywall to keep it off everyone's screens, the better.

JMB said...

I would rather see someone who would be prepared to challenge the Vatican on matters like all the scandals over abuse by RC priests. A devout Roman Catholic will presumably accept whatever line is put out by the Vatican

jailhouselawyer said...

What point? When I popped in there last week there was only a handful of drunks and junkies begging for money, and arguing with each other...

Jon Lishman said...

Brilliant, wonderfully wise post. And entertaining to boot.

Iain Dale at his very best.

Unknown said...

The only thing I like about Miss Widdecombe is her penchant for saying what she thinks.
This will not go down well in Rome so she seems an ideal appointment to me.
I'll not bore with my views on Catholicism; just say "anti". A religion summed up in one word; Hypocrisy.

Mick Turatian said...

The British ambassador to the Holy See is someone whose job is to understand and mutually interpret the attitudes of the Vatican.

Mutually interpret? Nice of you to take the trouble to pull Andrew Brown's piece apart but I couldn't get past his first sentence.

When an argument begins with piffle, it's unlikely to take wing and provide a useful insight into anything much.

davidc said...

isn't there an unwritten policy (or it may even be written somewhere) that the british ambassador to the vatican is never a roman catholic and this has been the case since that bit of unpleasantness involving henry IV.

other than that, miss widdecombe would, i feel, do us proud

davidc said...

for henry IV please read henry VIII

Botogol said...

we shouldn't be sending amabassdors to the Vatican.

it's not a real state (not recognised by the UN), it's a regressive church at odds with british values.

We should ignore it.

Manfarang said...

I believe the Vatican has observer status at the UN but the Roman Catholic Church should enjoy the same status the other religions are given by the UN.
Mussolini's creation long deserves abolition.

Bob Latchford said...

Anne Widdecombe would clearly be better utilised waddling the streets of 'broken britain' after dark lecturing prostitues and hoodlums for the benefit of ITV's cameras

James Bloodworth said...

So the Vatican is indeed playing the "we're a sovereign state" card now is it? In this case I pressume arrest warrants will be issued in the same fashion as were for Companero Pinnochet on the basis on complicity in the widespread rape of children?