Opinion: Ann is my charity champion

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

The Charity Champion award will be given in December to the politician who has done most to promote the issues our sector holds dear. Charities are being invited to cast their votes in a poll organised by website ePolitix and Third Sector. I'd like to put forward a name for your consideration - Ann Widdecombe.

As a lifelong Labour voter, it feels a bit odd suggesting a Tory, but put it down to Blair-fatigue. Now, there is plenty that Ann says or did as a minister or proposed as an opposition frontbencher that I disagree with profoundly, but I have never come across a politician who is more willing to give up her time for charities, to put herself out, to send herself up in a good cause and - importantly - to take on unpopular causes which she then follows up with characteristic gusto.

There are many prisoners, for example, who have much to thank Ann for after she has been convinced that they are suffering an injustice. She works privately behind the scenes to right those wrongs.

Injustice, I believe, is the key word in her approach. Ann fights her corner politically with famous energy. Many are the debates we have had on the political hot potatoes of the day and few, if any, have been my victories. But once something is outside the cut and thrust of party politics, she has a keen ear for anything that suggests an injustice has been perpetrated.

Over the years, I have approached Ann on a number of issues - health policy, social security and penal reform. She always holds an open door - and this is a woman whose diary is booked up throughout 2005. And, in contrast to her public persona, she listens, is prepared to be convinced and then acts.

Her apolitical approach in such matters is a model of how our sector tries to operate, while her commitment mirrors the best qualities found in charity workers. So, it may not have been the first name on your wish list, but look beyond the Doris Karloff caricature and give Ann Widdecombe a second thought.

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