Ben Bradley: My constituents aren’t interested in No 10’s curtains and Cummings’ leaks. Potholes and parking, though…

31 May

Ben Bradley is the MP for Mansfield and Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council.

Recently the Westminster bubble and the media have, predictably, been obsessing over personalities and slanging matches in SW1. While it may make interesting reading for the political obsessives, the things that really impact my constituents’ lives rarely ever make the front pages. This week I’ve formally taken on the new role of leading Nottinghamshire County Council, where I’ve chosen to spend my time on those local issues rather than climbing the ministerial ladder. For some reason, can’t think why, the Whitehall melodrama just doesn’t appeal.

If you’ve ever worked in an MP’s office, or in politics generally, you know that most of what comes across an MP’s desk is the hyper-local. Potholes, crime, a neighbour’s unhelpful parking habits… These are the day to day things that most impact on many lives. Focusing on local challenges, from sorting out the roads to supporting new jobs or training, is the stuff that matters. You don’t make that difference while shouting at the Prime Minister about Palestine or obsessing over his, I’m sure thoroughly interesting, book on Shakespeare.

The key issues that were raised with us on doorsteps in the recent local elections weren’t about No 10’s wallpaper choices; they were about our highways, the town centre and green spaces. Residents wanted to talk about their street and job, not about politicians. In my first weeks in charge at NCC we’ve set about working on those priorities, not binge-watching the Westminster gossip.

I’ve been through hours of discussion and briefings in the last few weeks, along with my colleagues at County Hall, as we seek to decide and set out our plans. We want to be more innovative in how we deliver services. Too often help is distant from people who need it, and too often – all over the country – we only offer support when things have already gone wrong.

To make an impact in people’s lives (and in their wallets through council tax) we can focus on preventative services, which will improve outcomes and cut costs when fewer people need that acute care later one. It might be youth services, family hubs, addiction services, supported accommodation – none of it makes the 10 o’clock news, but it can have a huge impact. It’s what most of us get in to politics for.

The first full meeting of the new Conservative-led NCC took place on Thursday. I’m very grateful to colleagues for confirming my appointment as the leader and pleased to see the motions we put forward were approved unanimously. Day one, we’ve established a cross-party panel to review how we repair and maintain our roads in Nottinghamshire, with a view to doing things better. Anybody, of any party, who was out on the doorstep during the local elections can tell you just how many times potholes and the poor state of roads were mentioned and how important this issue is to people.

The big picture – the macro-economics and the flagship Westminster capital projects – do make a difference, don’t get me wrong. We need job creation, improvements in skills and training and better infrastructure. For residents it’s important because of the individual local impacts; their ability to find better work or to upskill, the better transport links, a town centre that is reviving itself.

I think very often in Westminster we talk on our grandiose national scale and don’t realise that things go right over many people’s heads. Really, part of our job should be to explain why things like our East Midlands Freeport, our Development Corporation, or HS2 are not just words, and not just some fancy national projects, but will directly impact the life chances of local people.

We have huge potential in the East Midlands to change the game for our local economy, through the projects I’ve mentioned and more. With huge growth around a Toton HS2 hub, tied in to our global trading links and business incentives at East Midlands Airport, and a new set of local planning powers at key sites for development, we can join together three cities to create a new economic epicentre with the clout to rival Birmingham in the West.

Sounds dreamy to Westminster geeks like me, probably meaningless to most people going about their day to day lives, until you explain that this means better roads, rail, more jobs (and better ones), housing and new investment for our communities.

It’s the local bit that matters. How does that impact my life? How will that help my friends and my family to do better? How will it make my street safer, or look nicer, or make my commute easier? As we all bang on about select committee inquiries, and whether the decor in Downing Street came from John Lewis, residents roll their eyes, turn off the TV or the radio, close their newspapers and instead focus on the things that matter.

We should do the same (journalists, take note!) and all be focused on delivering on the issues we’ve heard direct from our constituents in recent weeks. Potholes over posturing, service delivery over slanging matches.

Ben Bradley: I will not be undertaking unconscious bias training – and call on my colleagues to take the same stand

15 Sep

Ben Bradley is MP for Mansfield.

The evidence is growing that many of our institutions are dominated by a metropolitan “groupthink” that is intolerant to any diversity of views, whether it’s the BBC, the British Library or even government departments. The latest such evidence is the further rollout of unconscious bias training here in the Commons.

This particular idea, that we all need to be re-educated and taught to suppress our innate urge to be awful to each other all the time, is costing the taxpayer a bomb as it rolls through our various government agencies and quangos. Next it’s the turn of MPs to be told that all of our thoughts are offensive and should be corrected.

I found out recently that House of Commons staff have been forced to sit through this nonsense since 2016, but the course is being extended in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests – a subject on which my thoughts have been pretty well publicised – and MPs will be expected to sit through it too. Let me be clear right from the off; I will not be taking it.

Nobody doubts that racism exists and can make life more challenging for some people. Nor that sexism exists, ageism and discrimination across a whole spectrum. That much is true. What I doubt here is that these things are somehow buried deep in all of our subconscious, steering us at every turn, and that with the help of some genius “educator” I can be cured of my unseen evil. I’m yet to see the evidence of it achieving a great deal, apart from big profits for the training company.

It’s been reported this week that £7,000 of taxpayer’s cash will be spent designing a course featuring a blue “Cookie Monster-esque” puppet, who wants to tell me in its cute and furry way that I shouldn’t use “offensive” words like “pensioner” or “lady”. Apparently, the puppet also plans to tell me which version of history I must use and which bits I should delete from my memory – improving my “cultural competency” – which is going to cost us around £700,000 in total. Needless to say I’m not convinced that this is an appropriate use of taxpayer’s money.

In recent weeks I completed similar “Valuing Everyone” training, aimed at explaining how I should not be mean to my staff. I guess I blindly stumbled in to that one, not quite aware until I clicked on to the Zoom call exactly what it was I was doing. It was quite a jolly couple of hours in truth – a nice chat with colleagues, but as far as I can tell it will have achieved precisely nothing except for a sizeable bill (around £750,000).

I don’t doubt that there are more than a small number of MPs who are a nightmare to work for and who can behave inappropriately. I’m just not convinced that two hours of training will have made the blindest bit of difference, despite the huge cost. In truth, if you asked the staffers in this building they could tell you who those bad bosses and managers are in seconds – it’s not a secret – and you could deal with the actual problem rather than just “being seen to do something”.

There’s something deeply undemocratic about it too, in my view. I’m elected to this place to represent my constituents. To share their thoughts and views with the House. We’ve already seen through the Brexit debates how the views of Leave voters were characterised as racist and unacceptable, and now we’re to be “educated” about which views are appropriate for us to speak about.

Who gets to decide which issues or views are appropriate for me to raise on behalf of my constituents? I’ve been told that speaking about the challenges facing working class white boys in my community is racist or sexist more than once. If it causes offence to a handful should I keep quiet? The biggest issue filling my inbox is illegal immigration, something thousands of my constituents feel very strongly about, but it’s a bit controversial, isn’t it, so should I leave it alone? The thought police will be the death of open debate and stymie our democracy.

I’ve said it more than once, that the electoral shift in the demographics of the “average” Tory voter in 2019 are not something we can ignore. They elected Conservatives, with a clear conservative message in that election about law and order, taking back control, freedom and free speech that can give a voice to places like Mansfield that have been ignored for a long time… We need to stick to that message and those values.

It’s pretty well recognised now that this kind of imposition of one set of values on to others is wildly unpopular with what is now the “core” Conservative vote – the working class folks of Mansfield, of Bury and of Redcar. They abhor the antics of BLM, of Extinction Rebellion and the like telling them what they should think. They know their own minds. It’s that kind of conflict with the metropolitan bubble where our institutions largely exist that lead us to Brexit, too. Woke ideology seems pretty deeply embedded at this point.

In my view we should be unabashed in our cultural conservatism, sticking up for free speech and the right to “make my own bloody mind up, thank you very much”, and stepping in to block this “unconscious bias” nonsense. I, for one, will not be taking it, and I’d call on my colleagues to take the same stand. Maybe we can have a good go at some bigger reforms too. After all, this is a Conservative Government!