BY JOHN ISMAEL
Exeter became a solitary red island in a sea of blue following the results of the General Election in 2015. Ben Bradshaw was one of very few Labour success stories in the 2015 vote as he increased his vote and saw off the challenge of the Conservatives’ Dom Morris who was unable to increase the Tory share of the poll in the city. This time round, with the Corbyn effect in play, Bradshaw faces a far tougher struggle to maintain his Labour outpost in Devon with weakness-sensing Tories swarming around him – on a 70% turnout in 2015 Bradshaw managed 25,062 votes with Morris on 17,879.
The local logic goes that the reason Bradshaw wins is because Exeter is a university town – students tend to vote Labour. But Exeter is changing, as new homes are cropping up in the hundreds on its outskirts, while workers immigrate to the city for its relaxed way of life, just a short drive from the Jurassic coast.
Blairite Bradshaw (he became Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in Gordon Brown’s Labour Government) seems to be feeling the pressure. Of late he’s been bashing out some conspiratorial tweets. This one on Wednesday insinuating that the Leave campaign was somehow linked with the Kremlin (as if Putin controlled Leave voting voters’ minds as he telepathically made 65 Million Americans vote for Trump):
Is Bradshaw losing the plot? He wouldn’t have behaved like that in previous election campaigns. He has reasons to be fretting.
Maybe he is worried the election is happening on June 8th when many of Exeter’s students are focused more on their exams rather than getting out to vote for the voter repellent that is Corbyn’s Marmite Labour. He’s between a rock and a hard place – Exeter Corbynites despise him as a Blairite while the anti-Corbyn Labour voting brigade see voting Labour as a vote for Corbyn.
Bradshaw is in the eye of a perfect storm this time round. He is one of the die-hard, arch-remainers, even openly expressing his “don’t give up” Remain stance in the local Exeter Express & Echo, yet only 55% of Exeter voters voted to Remain. Many Labour supporters voted Leave. And many of the 55% who voted Remain would really rather Bradshaw shut up and made the best of an inevitable Brexit.
Bradshaw is also one of the key voices in the anti-hunting lobby:
Now that may well work in Islington or Hackney but Exeter is situated betwixt Exmoor and Dartmoor. Exeter houses plenty of voters who’d love to see a repeal of the Hunting Ban, which has done so much damage to local jobs and ways of life in the Exeter countryside. Exeter is not so townie as most cities – its citizens regularly escape to the countryside more than most. May’s recent declaration she supports a free vote on repealing the Hunting Ban will resonate in many parts of the city. There’s a sense on the ground that Bradshaw needs to be beaten – many Tory Leavers are talking up a groundswell and are urging locals to get out on June 8th and vote Conservative to end the Bradshaw era.
It would seem, aside from standing for a party that has Corbyn, McDonnell and Abbott at its head, Bradshaw’s biggest problem this time round is the influx of new, moneyed Tory-voting settlers into Exeter who can see that, actually, Exeter is shabby compared to the towns and cities they have come from. There’s an obvious lack of investment in the city, the stations are run down, the bus station is a disgrace, traffic congestion is a major issue, the roads are in disrepair and Ben Bradshaw has been MP for 20 years. So who’s to blame?
If there were a Tory MP in place, they rightly conclude, investors might well pour their money into the city and tidy it up – as it is, there’s too much of a risk that it will be a victim of continued Labour “ideas” and possible Marxist McDonnell madness. Bradshaw wears their same red rosette, after all. The new, pragmatic, common sense revolution that seems to be sweeping across Britain would prefer an MP who spends their time attracting business and investment, rather than attending Palestine rallies (a Godforsaken place about which, frankly, they don’t give much of a damn).
Bradshaw falls back on the claim that he’s a good, hard-working local MP. That may very well be, but so what? That is what any MP is paid to be. The job is hardly rocket science. Being a liberal, do-gooder at the local level these days only gets you so far.
Parts of Exeter still look like they’re in the 1970’s – take a look at the area around St James’ Park, the ramshackle football stadium belonging to Exeter football club, replete with its weeds and rubbish. It looks like Armageddon’s been and gone round there.
Labour MPs like Bradshaw rant on about how the poor areas of their towns are suffering but where are the positive changes in the poor areas of Exeter in the last two decades? There’s no obvious Bradshaw legacy at all. Any improvements have been made by the rise of local businesses while Bradshaw has dutifully occupied himself sorting leylandii disputes. Thanks Ben. That’s not what being an MP for an up and coming city entails. The Exeter Chiefs boss and telecoms businessman Tony Rowe has done more to positively change the face of Exeter in the last decade than Bradshaw has in two decades.
There’s another problem voters will be mulling over in Exeter. If Bradshaw wins, what influence will he have in the Commons when the Labour Party – dominated by the far left Corbynistas – seems certain to continue its unpopular path even if Labour succumb to a severe drubbing at the hands of the voters?
The candidate hoping to snatch Exeter back for the Tories, James Taghdissian, claims Labour’s Bradshaw will be mired in political infighting if he wins back the seat. Taghdissian says Bradshaw’s position is “completely and utterly bizarre” as he is “trying to position himself as an independent”. He recently told Devon Live: “It’s an interesting way of positioning yourself as a politician and is essentially this: my leader is awful, my shadow cabinet team is awful and should not be let anywhere near the reins of power, I have written the election off in my own mind but vote for me because I am the Labour candidate because I’m a nice guy – that’s essentially it.”
If Bradshaw somehow wins, it will be the last time he does so in Exeter. The demographics will destroy him next time round. The South West is fast changing and Bradshaw is increasingly an anomaly as the blue tsunami threatens from outside the city walls.
My money’s on Taghdassian. The good people of Exeter will see that Bradshaw and his party are has-beens whose ideas are regressive and quite often mad. The world has moved on. Time to move on with it.
UPDATE: UKIP will not be putting up a candidate in the Exeter seat. UKIP got 5,000 votes in 2015; the majority is 7,183 votes for Labour over Tories. Game on.