Ben Bradley talks Covid-19, Brexit and local politics

Conservative MP for Mansfield Ben Bradley talks about how Covid-19 has impacted his work, rent strikes and more. Platform’s Kieran Burt discovers the former NTU student’s thoughts on current and past events on the political scene.

K.B. : Why did you go into politics?

B.B. : It was kind of by accident. I went to university become a P.E teacher. I really enjoyed hockey. But I didn’t make it into the under 21 team, which made me rethink. I dropped out and spent a year working as a landscaping gardener thinking what I want to do.

I went back to university, to Nottingham Trent, and picked politics because I was interested in it and it didn’t railroad me down a specific route. I did lots of work experience and volunteering while I was there and started to think about what I thought about the world and how things worked.

I joined the Conservative Party by looking at the national picture and thinking about what was going on. This was in 2008/9, at the end of the last Labour government. When I left university, I started applying for things in the Conservative Party.

K.B. : What are the issues you’re most passionate about?

B.B. : It all started with an argument about bins. People get really passionate about bins and potholes. It tends to be local stuff, that get people engaged. The council didn’t collect our bins one Christmas, and we had a new-born baby with nappies everywhere, rats in the garden. It was awful.

Eventually I decided that if they’re not going to do it properly then I’m going to do it, and I stood for council elections. I didn’t expect to win because it had been a Labour seat for a while, but we did.

It all starts small; it’s about finding that issue in your community that gets you riled up. Even if it is just bins. Now I focus on education, I do a lot around vulnerable kids in particular. I’ve done a lot of work on education inequality, a lot about white working class boys – kids from Mansfield who statistically are the least likely to get good GCSEs and go to university.

I think about what equality means too. When you look through the stats it is white boys from places like Mansfield who struggle the most, but our equalities agenda is focused on physical characteristics. It has got me thinking if the system is fair. The Equalities Act is misrepresented and misused quite a lot. That’s one of my other big campaigns, how do we change the way we approach equality, to look more at socio-economic and geographical factors.

K.B. : How has COVID impacted your work from a local perspective?

B.B. : Locally it is totally ripped it to bits. I’m in London half the week, the other half I would normally spend out in the constituency talking to people, visiting businesses and schools, and getting involved. None of that is allowed. It’s gone from having local surgeries, meeting people face to face, to doing things online with local business or stakeholders. Initially it was absolutely manic.

During the first lockdown I was Parliamentary Private Secretary, so I was the minister’s assistant in the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. I was responsible with correspondence for the ministers. It became an admin focused job. I had hundreds of emails pouring in everyday, from colleagues asking what about this issue etc.

Being an MP is a full-time job but then you can add the additional full time job of being a minister on top of that. It’s manic. Now it’s a little bit more relaxed. During that time, I had a big epiphany about my work. Working from home changed my perspective because I got to see my kids everyday which was brilliant. So I stepped back from the role in government which makes things a little bit easier.

Being an MP is a full-time job but then you can add the additional full time job of being a minister on top of that. It’s manic. I’m able to engage in more constituency work, because before I was just so focused on the government role. I hope things open up as soon as we can. It’s less rewarding job when you can’t go out and see people. To represent people, you have to be involved.

K. B. : How has COVID-19 impacted your Parliamentary work?

B.B. : It’s been frustrating. Previously, if you were interested in a debate you can go and into the chamber, and the minister can let you intervene. You could get involved in what you wanted. It’s really structured now. You have to be selected for a debate. If you’re not chosen you can’t speak. It’s just luck of the draw. It’s difficult to raise issues or have a proper debate because you’re remote. There’s no system to intervene or ask questions.

I’ve had periods where I’ve been drawn for nothing, and you’ve got things that you really want to say but you can’t. I am the Chair for the All Party Group for Sport and there’s been a lot of debates on how we support sport, exercise, and wellbeing during lockdown.

There was a period where there was four of these debates in about two weeks. I’ve applied for every one of these debates and I’ve not been able to say a word. I feel I can contribute, and you don’t get in. Some people just google some research, and they get in. That’s frustrating. They’re not really debates either, they’re a series of people giving a speech. You can’t engage, intervene, or ask questions in the way that you need to for proper scrutiny.

K. B. : What are your political ambitions?

B. B. : There are a lot of things I’d like to do. Right now, I’ve not changed my mind about being at home with my wife and kids. When I had a role in government, it was challenging for home life. In short to medium term, I’m quite happy raising things that I care about, pushing Mansfield’s needs and having that balance and seeing my kids. When my kids are a bit older. I’d like to work in education, I’d like to work on the equalities agenda or sport. I’m not in a rush.

K.B. : How do you react when people bring up past comments that you have made?

B.B. : I try to be open about it. Politics is a difficult game, particularly online. Twitter is a cesspit of misery. Because of who I am and the seat I won, I am a target.  When I was first elected, I was a rising star. The nature of rising stars in politics is that everyone tries to shoot them down.

There are a lot of people who are keen to misread, misinterpret what I’ve said. There are some cases where I’ve said stupid things. We all do. I was elected at 27, it took a while to realise people paid attention to what I say. It’s been a big learning curve. I have messed some things up. I think we have to deal with it openly.

You have to take these things on the chin and explain your point. On Twitter you get embroiled in arguments on the basis you’re having a fair debate when no one wants a fair conversation with you. They want a ‘gotcha’ moment. That’s why I’ve come off Twitter. Ultimately, it comes back to my work. I have to hold my hands up if I’ve messed up.

K.B. : An example of this is an interview you did with Channel 4 in 2019 over Theresa May’s Brexit Deal. Could you talk about that?

B.B. : So you get asked to go on this show, a news program, as a Member of Parliament, what’s your view on X. Bringing up my voting record and treating it like was the exact same choice at every stage, we voted on different choices. At one point it was ‘take this deal or there’s a chance of getting something better’, then after it was ‘take this deal or we might not leave the EU’. They’re very different choices with different decisions to be made.

I wrote an article saying I’m not sure about the merits of this, I’m still weighing it up, I’m not sure I’m going to vote for it, which was taken as I will not vote for it, which is not what I said. The actual interview was fine. But nobody cared because that introduction clip went a bit mad. It was really frustrating. I might as well have just walked off after that because nobody was going to care what I had to say.

K. B.: What are your views on the university rent strikes?

B. B.: It’s challenging. On a level of fairness, you’re paying for something you’re not getting. You’re not allowed to use that service; then why should you pay for it? I don’t think anyone would disagree. I have a huge amount of sympathy. The private market is so varied and so complex, government will find it difficult to say give everyone their rent back. There is no legal mechanism to be able to do that. Government needs to have at what is possible and talk to the universities. It’s difficult to find a simple solution.

We might have to rely on the goodwill of landlords sadly, which will be a very mixed and unequal picture.  

By Kieran Burt

Featured image: Ben Bradley.

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