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Elected as the MP for Exeter in 1997 during the great Blair landslide. Having never lost his seat and having been a journalist; Mr Bradshaw is very much a veteran of British Politics. The newly journalist-turned-politician won in 1997 what had been considered - for most of post-war British history - a safe Conservative seat. Prior to 1997, the parliamentary seat of Exeter had seen - since the creation of the Labour Party in 1900 - only one Labour MP (Gwyneth Dunwoody, 1966-70). Though Mr Bradshaw's victory was certainly aided by the popularity of New Labour, the seat is now no longer considered a safe Tory seat, but rather a safe Labour one. (The vote for the Exeter MP has never dipped below 38%). In 2017, Ben achieved his biggest vote share yet - he now holds 62% of the vote. Though at least part of this new upsurge can be attributed to Corbyn's popularity.
This is certainly all rather excellent for those who support Labour. But who is Ben? What political ideology does he subscribe to? Does he support Brexit? Is he a Corbynista? The answers to these questions may be obvious to some, but not to all. In an attempt to answer these questions; an interview was obtained with this publication.
Having been searched and held in reception at Portcullis House, it was easy to be intimidated by what seemed at times like an endless sea of grey and black suits. Each person seeming to know at all times what to do and where to go.
After a short wait, our interviewee appears from around the corner, he immediately greets us and shakes our hands. He carries himself well and is obviously comfortable with his surroundings. To us the titled The Right Honourable MP for Exeter seems an approachable, easy to talk to man who instantly puts us at our ease. Upon our arrival in his office we ask whether he prefers to be called Mr Bradshaw? ‘Oh no’ he replies, ‘Ben Bradshaw or Ben is fine’.
With that we ask Ben to tell us a bit about himself. He is the son of a vicar and a primary school teacher, but is not from Devon, though he took many summer holidays in the area with his family. As a university graduate he moved to Exeter to join his late father. After this move he found himself a job at the Express & Echo, a publication for whom he still writes. His career in journalism gradually grew as he went on to join the BBC as their Berlin correspondent from where he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall.
I had this massive historical event falling in my lap, which was a very lucking break for me career wise.
From here he tells us about his 1996 journey into the Labour Party.
The Exeter Labour Party were looking for a candidate. I had joined the party when I first moved to Exeter while I was a journalist, so I knew quite a lot of people who remembered me and had followed my career. I thought that it might be quite an interesting new challenge, to have a go at least. I never really expected to be elected. But I was selected and subsequently elected. And the rest is history.
In fact his career in the Labour Party proved very successful. He served in multiple ministerial positions including as the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Foreign Office and as the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
He describes himself as a Social Democrat. A term which he defines as pro-Freedom and pro-Market Economy (but with restrictions). He names Germany, Scandinavia, and past Labour Governments as great examples of his ideology.
Those countries that have pursued Social Democratic models and policies. Whether Britain under Labour governments, Germany for much of its post-war history, or Scandinavia, they are the countries that have not only done best economically but have delivered the highest levels of equality, health, education and human happiness in human history.
When asked whether the Labour Party is at present the best home for such an ideology, his answer was stark and immediate:
The Labour Party is the only home for Social Democrats in a first past the post system, which generally tends towards two-party dominance. The Labour Party has for the last century and a little bit more been the parliamentary vehicle in this country for Social Democracy and for progressive values. Whether you want to talk about economic reform, social reform, constitutional reform, all of the major achievements of the last 100 year have happened under Labour Governments. I don't think that's an accident.
His support for the party is obviously strong, but this support has not always been universally given to its leaders. In September 2016 Mr Bradshaw wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian where he described the current leadership as:
A destructive combination of incompetence, deceit and menace. - Ben Bradshaw in The Guardian
However, his opinions seem to have very much mellowed since the last General Election. In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live he said, amongst other things that:
We are a democratic party and all entitled to our view. [...] I see a man who is growing into the job. I take my hat off to him for the way he performed in the election campaign - it was an incredible achievement to deny the Tories a majority and since then he has got better all the time. - Ben Bradshaw on Radio 5 Live
When asked about Corbyn's leadership in our interview he reiterated what he has said previously. However, he warned that though the party was leading in the polls, the lead was only narrow. The latest YouGov poll puts the Labour Party a mere 1% point ahead of the Conservatives. He goes on to say that the party should be 20 points ahead given the 'chaos in the health service, with social care, and Brexit'. He may be referring here to the Labour Party's huge point polling lead in 1997 under Tony Blair, but it is also possibly a comment of the leadership of the party. Mr. Bradshaw does shows mild contempt for the Labour front benches' habit of 'slagging of the Tories all the time'.
It's no good Labour front bench spokespeople coming on the TV & radio slagging the Tories off all the time. The next question they'll be asked is 'What would you do instead?', and until we hear clear convincing, credible answers for those questions I fear not enough voters will be convinced that we are a credible government in waiting.
Mr. Bradshaw is also vehemently against what he calls 'the disastrous conservative Brexit'. He has shown support for groups like Open Britain and one need only glance at his Twitter feed to understand this. When asked what would happen if the roles where swapped and Labour were in power he said:
I imagine that if we had won the election in 2017 we wouldn't be pursuing the hard Brexit, because we would be recognising the reality that our program of social justice and rebuilding the NHS and public investment, would simply be completely undeliverable against the backdrop of the economic and fiscal damage that leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market are going to inflict on our economy.
Ben also supports what has been coined 'a meaningful vote' on the Brexit deal. Though he adds that he doesn't know whether this vote would take place in the form of another referendum or simply a vote in parliament. Although he later says:
I have a slight preference for parliament, I’m not terribly keen on referendums. They tend to be the tool of people like Hitler and Mussolini to manipulate public opinion. We live in a parliamentary democracy and parliament should be sovereign in my view.
When we asked what he thought about a 'no Brexit' option in this - currently - hypothetical referendum he quickly replies 'Oh certainly'.
We try to end our interview on what we thought would be a pretty complicated question: What do you think of power? To this he has a rather concise response, power he says 'is essentially the ability to govern effectively' and that you need power 'to make laws to change people's lives'. In addition he tells us that:
While power is an essential element to changing things for the better, it is very important that it is not unaccountable or unfettered.
With our truly last question we ask whether he has enjoyed his time as an MP, and whether he has ever felt frustrated.
I don't think that I have ever felt frustrated. I've certainly felt disappointed at various times. You never want to lose elections, and you never want to be in opposition. [...] But, I don't regret a minute of it. In fact it's been a huge privilege, I feel, to have been not only in parliament but also a government minister for nine years, making a real difference to people's lives in my constituency.
He is obviously well acquainted with the ins and outs of government. His mannerisms are impeccable, as is his rhetoric. He appeared very astute and despite having been 20 years in the job his ambitions have not been dampened either. Brexit, as he says, has given him a new cause. He firmly names Brexit as 'possibly the worst decision this country has taken since appeasement'. The possibility of Labour in power also seems to be a source of excitement for him. Perhaps we shall once again see The Right Honourable MP for Exeter in government. Whether this is a good thing or not is up to you to decide.
Studies History with Politics at the University of Buckingham