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Conservative MP Campaigning To Be Mayor Is Distancing Himself From Tarnished Tory Image

Ben Bradley launching his local election campaign alongside Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in March. (Alamy)

4 min read

Tory MP Ben Bradley, who is also the Conservative candidate for the East Midlands mayoralty, has said he is trying to separate his own campaign from the image of his party, as there is "clearly not a brilliant national picture".

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire will elect their first mayor of the new East Midlands Combined County Authority on Thursday 2 May, on the same day as other mayoral and local elections are held across the country. Last month Prime Minister Rishi Sunak joined Bradley at a bus station in Derbyshire to launch the Conservative local election campaign in the region. 

Labour is currently polling on average 20 points ahead of the Conservatives nationally, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak continues to struggle to turn his party's fortunes around in time for the local elections and for the general election, expected by the end of this year. 

A report published by the Centre for Cities think tank last month included a survey which showed people are more likely to vote for the individual candidate than the party they belong to in a mayoral election than a general election.

Bradley, who is both the Tory MP for Mansfield and the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, told PoliticsHome he expected the mayoral race to be "amazing or bloody awful", but indicated that he hoped voters would see past the colour of his rosette.

“I think I have a better record, a better story to tell than the other candidates, but clearly, the question that I don't know the answer to is whether it's enough to overcome what is clearly not a brilliant national picture for the party," he said.

"More people will look at this in terms of the right person across these mayoral elections, as opposed to just party politics, which selfishly is a good thing.”

Bradley's comments echo West Midlands Mayor Andy Street's admission that the Tories' dire national polling could affect his own "Brand Andy", but that he therefore hoped people would vote for him as an individual distinct from the national party. Labour currently leads the Conservatives by 28 per cent in the West Midlands, according to Redfield & Wilton Strategies polling.

Bradley argued that as the mayor would be a particularly "high profile person", candidates should be judged on the quality and relevance of their CV.

“I think I'm the only one who would actually tick the boxes to get shortlisted because nobody else has any experience in any of those roles, so I've got to talk about that because that's my main selling point, I suppose, whether the party are doing well or not," he continued. 

“It's not about whether it's a Tory mayor or a Labour mayor in there, it's about the right person to do the job.

"It doesn't matter what rosette the East Midlands Mayor wears, they've got to be able to build this organisation, which doesn't exist, and they've got to be able to manage this funding and all the partners that are involved in it, because it's a uniquely complicated set of structures and partners as a region.”

The biggest challenge, Bradley claimed, would be convincing disaffected voters in the East Midlands to bother casting a vote at all, particularly as it will be the first mayoral election in the region. Insisting that people do "separate it slightly from the national", he felt that convincing people that the mayoral election would more directly impact their lives would help to persuade people to come out and vote.

"The government will deal with these abstract national things, but the mayor has powers to affect the stuff in your street, the stuff that you contact me about and that you care about," he said.

"So it is a big deal and the challenge is if you’re not engaged in these structures – like most people aren’t – trying to justify this new public sector organisation, which is easy to think of as another politician, another layer, is not straightforward.

"But in reality, it replaces a lot of existing organisations, it brings a lot of efficiency together, reduces a lot of duplication, and I think it will make us much more effective in what we deliver. But people are quite understandably sceptical about politics and politicians."

Ten elections will be held for metro mayors across England in May, including in Greater London, Greater Manchester, and the West Midlands. 

Bradley admitted that when campaigning, he referred to success stories in Labour-run mayoral administrations “all the time”.

“Having this role has been good for those cities, and as a result, the investment that they've brought in and the changes they've made, far outstrip anything we [in the East Midlands] have been able to do," he said.

He also confirmed he would not stand down as an MP ahead of the general election if he gets elected as mayor, although he would automatically stop being a councillor. He will, however, stand agains to be Mansfield's MP if he loses the mayoral race.

“I can either leave Mansfield with no MP for four months, and then for them to elect an MP that may never even get to speak in the House before another election is called... or we can just crack on.”

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