AT Penlee Park Open Air Theatre in Penzance, whoever wrote the promotional blurb had allowed excitement to overwhelm their syntax: ‘Season 2019 has so many potential highlights and here’s certainly one of the first; those “I really wish I’d seen that” type of moment! SAT JUN 8th ANN WIDDECOMBE will be no exception!’

Having run out of exclamation marks, the writer drew breath and calmed slightly to conclude: ‘Minister in 3 different departments, BBC Strictly contestant, Celebrity Big Brother housemate and an anti-hunting Tory. Always strident and often very funny. We can’t wait to see her in the Park.’ 

Sadly, ticket holders in Penzance for An Audience with Ann Widdecombe must now make other plans: the show has been cancelled because, according to theatre manager David Hunter, ‘Ann Widdecombe’s recent remarks cannot, in any way, be supported or condoned.’

Who knew that it was necessary for a theatre to either ‘support or condone’ the opinions of those who appear at it? Perhaps Mr Hunter feared being accused of staging a fundraising rally for gay conversion therapy, this being the subject of Ann’s ‘recent remarks’ which had fainthearted Hunter and others reaching for the smelling salts.

Cornwall Live reported that ‘the 71-year-old is now facing a backlash after going on TV to defend her support of “gay cure” treatments’. Never mind that at no point did Ann Widdecombe use the word ‘cure’ or even insinuate that homosexuality is a disease to be treated. Nor had the Brexit Party’s newly-elected MEP appeared on Sky News for the purpose of re-publicising an opinion previously expressed in a 2012 newspaper column, exhumed by the Ridge on Sunday programme for guest presenter Niall Paterson to produce as a Gotcha!

Unsympathetic reports described Widdecombe ‘squirming’. In fact, Ann’s response was characteristically forthright, even demanding that she be allowed to answer in full: ‘This is where I am misrepresented quite often. I’ve never claimed that such science already existed . . . I’ve merely said that if you simply rule out the possibility of it you’re denying people who are confused about their sexuality, or are discontented with it, the chances you do give to people who want to change gender.

Credit to Ann for standing her ground and refusing to obfuscate or apologise. Of course, Sky News pathetically had raised this obscure and hypothetical subject solely as an attempt to embarrass the interviewee and create division within the Brexit Party. Ann witheringly retorted: ‘I do not imagine for a moment that the Brexit Party will be putting forward a policy on gay sex changes in its manifesto. You’re just completely looking for things that actually do not determine people’s votes.’ (From 6:40)

Paterson posited ‘there are policy positions that you have suggested in the past that Martin Daubney, Claire Fox and others would have real difficulty advocating or indeed standing next to’. To which Claire Fox posted the trenchant rejoinder: ‘People keep asking if I am outraged by Ann Widdecombe’s views on homosexuality. As if this was new information. For God’s sake, I follow politics . . . I won’t be lectured to about my allies in the fight for democracy by people who demonise pro-democracy campaigners as bigots, who blithely dismiss popular sovereignty as populism and who campaign to overturn voters’ choices they disagree with.’

Bravo, Claire. Amongst those who, in Fox’s words, ‘demonise pro-democracy campaigners as bigots’ is LBC radio host and rabid Remainer James O’Brien. One recent Jimmy riddle is that ‘Ann Widdecombe hasn’t returned to politics by accident’. If you naively imagined that she quit the Conservative Party and, in her seventies, stood again for election as a Brexiteer out of principle and duty, think again. No, apparently she was ‘put there very deliberately by a man whose entire career has been built on stoking hatred & exploiting ignorance’.

If you believe the author of the modestly titled How To Be Right, Ann Widdecombe is back in public life solely as the puppet of Machiavellian manipulator Nigel Farage. Laudably, Nigel defended his new colleague: ‘Ann Widdecombe is a devout Christian and there is nothing wrong with that, in my opinion. What’s intolerant is when the pack mentality decides that a certain group of people have a view that is not acceptable in the mainstream and they should be hounded out of public office for having a different point of view.’

Meanwhile back in luvvie-land, the people of Penzance are not the only theatre-goers being denied the opportunity to see Ann Widdecombe. David Hutchinson, the ‘absolutely disgusted’ owner of Ilfracombe’s Landmark Theatre, garnered considerable publicity by cancelling Ann’s forthcoming show, declaring on Twitter that his company will ‘never provide a stage for these vile people’.

Being a conservative who cleaves to the now outdated notion – although in historical terms it was the commonly-held view until the week before last – that marriage ought only to be a heterosexual union between man and woman, Ann will not have many fans amongst theatrical liberals. Nonetheless, hugely depressing was the number of actors, directors and writers who congratulated Hutchinson for no-platforming Ann Widdecombe, or the ‘old homophobic bigot’ as, it appears, she is widely known in artistic circles. ‘Absolutely agree with your decision, David,’ tweeted a children’s author and comedian named Ian Billings. ‘It takes courage.’

No, Mr Hutchinson and Mr Billings: pandering to the prejudices of a peer group is not brave, it is easy. Moral courage is ignoring protesters and continuing to stage a show by someone with whom you profoundly disagree. In any case, the notion that Ann Widdecombe would wish to discuss gay conversion therapy during her one-woman show is risible.

Ilfracombe’s Landmark Theatre boasts of its ‘diverse programme of events’. David Hunter, theatre manager in Penzance, hails his ‘diverse audience from across the county’ and ‘diverse breadth of performers’.

Spot the common buzzword. Alas, neither venue is sufficiently ‘diverse’ or tolerant to allow Widdecombe’s fare.

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