If Labour wants to win in the south, it needs Ben Bradshaw on the ticket

by Frazer Loveman

If you take the electoral map of Britain and draw a line south of Birmingham, the picture for Labour is very bleak in the south of England. Outside of a neat pocket of red in London, there is an overwhelming sea of blue with only the occasional red spot in the other southern cities.

Obviously, the rural south has never been a Labour stronghold- even in the boom years of Blair the map is overwhelmingly blue once you get south of the midlands- but should Labour ever want to get back into power they will have to make headway in places such as Basingstoke and Plymouth which have now been overrun in the tide of Tory blue.

At PMQs last Wednesday, David Cameron was asked a question by Dr. Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test. The question itself was regarding care for the elderly and Cameron largely ignored it to make the jibe that Dr. Whitehead was a rare thing “a Labour MP in the south of England”.

It met with much delight on the government benches, and to be honest I’d normally dismiss that sort of thing out of hand when watching PMQs, but this time it particularly struck me as I actually voted for Dr. Whitehead. It is becoming apparent that for the Labour Party to ever see electoral success again it will need to shift out of what Tony Blair called its electoral “comfort zone.”

Now, it seems to be taboo to even mention Blair in the Labour party any more, despite the fact that he was the most successful leader in the party’s history. Ed Miliband seemed to go to great lengths in order to distance himself from the New Labour years as if Blair was some sort of electoral Banquo’s ghost who would haunt him and the Labour party at every turn.

Of those now vying for the leadership Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper seem to be toying with embracing some New Labour principles, taking a harder line on benefits while trying to win over the business sector that is currently perceived as being pro-Conservative. That is all well and good, but both Kendall and Cooper represent constituencies in the midlands or the north, as does Andy Burnham. This isn’t something that will detract from their ability to win votes, but if Labour wants to solve its southern conundrum then why doesn’t it look to have someone in the leadership team who knows how to win in the south.

The party would, therefore have to turn to the deputy leadership race. With the race being dominated by Tom Watson, probably the most well-known candidate on account of his campaign during the phone hacking scandal and his role in the toppling of Blair. Despite this, there is an opportunity to move away from the mainstream and select a candidate capable of re-connecting Labour to the south: Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw.

He certainly doesn’t have the name recognition of Watson, or even of Caroline Flint or Stella Creasy, but he has an electoral record to match any of them. In 1997 he won the Exeter seat with an 11.8% swing, taking a seat that hadn’t voted Labour since 1966 and has held it ever since- even increasing his majority last month whilst so many other Labour MPs struggled.

Though I decamp to Southampton to study, I have lived just outside Exeter my whole life (though not within constituency boundaries) and know that it is a vibrant city which has a lot of potential in the region. Many of my friends who live in Exeter have talked anecdotally about Bradshaw’s work as a constituency MP, and there probably isn’t a person in the city that hasn’t seen him cycling to a surgery or out knocking on doors during election periods.

His success in turning Exeter from a safe Conservative to safe Labour seat is often overlooked, but he has successfully supported businesses throughout the city and presented Exeter as an attractive area for investment. He represents the pro-business wing of the party that needs to reclaim its voice after the battering Labour took under Miliband for being ‘anti-business’ whilst also being one of the true success stories of New Labour.

As one of the rare Labour MPs left standing in the south he would at the very least bring a different viewpoint to the deputy leadership race, though given the number of candidates all requiring the support of 35 MPs it’s very possible he doesn’t even make the ballot (Watson currently has well over 50 nominations and seems intent on acquiring more rather than allow a broad debate).

This, as well as being another indictment on the 15% threshold, could be a huge opportunity missed for the Labour party to have someone in the leadership team who knows how to succeed in the south. Bradshaw would certainly be considered a left field choice, but he has proved that he knows how to win, and win big in an area not traditionally a Labour heartland.

The Labour party is not going to win the 2020 election without succeeding in seats such as Plymouth Moor View or Southampton Itchen (both seats swallowed by the blue tide last month), so to prevent the already dying breed going extinct, perhaps the party should look to learn from the successes MPs like Bradshaw and Whitehead made in the last election.

Frazer Loveman is a history and politics student at the University of Southampton

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4 Responses to “If Labour wants to win in the south, it needs Ben Bradshaw on the ticket”

  1. Helen says:

    I have noticed Ben Bradshaw in TV interviews and I am impressed by him. His responses to questions are sensible and grounded. But isn’t it too late now. The lists are closed.

  2. Mark Stockwell says:

    @Helen – No, it’s not too late: nominations for Deputy are open until noon on Wednesday (17 June).

  3. John P Reid says:

    If any one can contact Andy Slaughter, Jon cryer, David Lammy, Steve Rotheram ,Natasha Engel ( I inow she’s standing for deputy chair, Harriet Harman,she did endorse Diane Abbott in 2010′ or the whips, get Ben on the ticket now,

    Having spoke to PLP candidates Mike Le Surf(Brentwood, Gavin Calghan (Basildon) Sam Gould(Romford) Paul Mgeary (Hornchurch and Upminster) Polly billington (Thurrock) they all agree if any one understands the south it’s him

    Alan Johnson and john Denham have both come out with great articles endorsing him.

  4. Brilliant piece! I also wrote a blog post on why Ben needs to be leader. Not only is there the geographical logic of the need for south support to win back the majority, but he has been a phenomenal constituency MP – a politician who genuinely seems to care about the public and want to do his public service well.

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