British Labour Politician and Journalist
Ben Bradshaw has been the Member of Parliament for Exeter since 1997 and is currently the Minister of State in the Department of Health and Minister for the South West. He is notable as being one of the very first MPs to openly declare his homosexuality, and is thus known to the politically incorrect as 'Bent Ben'.
Early Life and career
Benjamin Peter James Bradshaw was born in London on the 30th August 1960, the youngest of five children of Peter Bradshaw, a "noted clergyman of liberal and hospitable disposition", but was raised in Norwich where his father was a canon of Norwich Cathedral and his mother a teacher at a local primary school.
Ben was educated at the Thorpe St Andrew School in Norwich before attending the University of Sussex where he studied German and Italian and also spent some time at Freiburg University in Germany. After graduating he went into journalism and was a reporter for the Express and Echo in Exeter between 1984 and 1985, then for the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich in 1985. He then made the move from print to radio and joined BBC in 1986. He first worked for BBC Radio Devon in Exeter between 1986 and 1989 and then, thanks to his knowledge of the language, became the BBC Radio Correspondent in Berlin. Unfortunately whilst this should have given him the opportunity to have covered the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was unlucky enough to be on holiday in Devon at the time and so missed out. He nevertheless remained in Germany until 1991 when he returned to Britain to work as a BBC Radio 4 reporter for World At One and World This Weekend from 1991 to 1997.
During his journalistic career he received a number of awards, being the Argos Consumer Journalist of the Year in 1988, the AAnglo-German Foundation Journalist of the Year for 1990 and also won the Sony News Reporter Award in 1993.
Ben joined the Labour Party whilst he was in Exeter in 1984, and although it appears that he wasn't that particularly active in the party, this was not necessarily a drawback in terms of Tony Blair's New Labour. His opportunity came when John Lloyd was controversially deselected as the Labour PPC for Exeter by the National Executive Committee, and Ben was selected as his replacement. This resulted in one of the "more interesting electoral contests in 1997", since whilst Ben was a homosexual pro-European, his Conservative opponent was the Eurosceptic Dr Adrian Rogers, president of the Conservative Family Institute, and of the opinion that homosexuality was "sterile, disease-ridden and God-forsaken". Indeed Dr Rogers, who at the time represented the closest thing to a British version of the American Religious Right, conducted an essentially homophobic campaign that claimed that "schoolchildren would be in danger" if Ben was elected, called on the local electorate to take action to "stop the pink flag over Exeter", and condemned his Labour opponent as "a media man, a homosexual", who liked Europe, had studied German and lived in Berlin, rode a bike, and was therefore conclusively "everything about society which is wrong". As vitriolic as the campaign turned out, according to the Exeter Labour Party the "Lib Dems were only marginally better". Not that this made that much difference as Ben was elected with a majority of 11,705 on an 11.9% swing from the Conservative Party at the 1997 General Election, being the first time that the Labour Party had won Exeter since 1966.
On his arrival at the House of Commons, he established a notable first when when his long term boyfriend Neal Dalgleish was granted a 'spouse's pass' to the House of Commons; the first occasion on which a member of the male sex had been granted such a privilige. During his first Parliament Ben was a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and of the Ecclesiastical Committee, and also successfully introduced a Private Member's Bill which became the Pesticides Act 1998. He also served as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, but resigned that post in December 2000 in order to take up the job of Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Health Minister John Denham. Following the 2001 General Election he received his first government job when he was appointed the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the 11th June 2001. It was during his time as the junior Foreign Office minister that he first came to public attention; having referred to George Galloway as being a "mouthpiece for the Iraqi regime", Galloway retaliated by calling him a "liar". Galloway was subsequently obliged to apologise for his use of unparliamentary language.
To his detractors, his devotion to the task of defending and explaining government policy on Iraq simply rendered him as another cog in the Blairite soundbite machine, whilst to others it simply demonstrated his suitability for promotion. Indeed Ben was duly promoted in turn to the posts of Deputy to the Leader of the House of Commons on the 29th May 2002, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on the 13th June 2003, where he was otherwise known Minister for Nature Conservation and Fisheries. As such he was called on to rebuke the Icelandic Ambassador for his country's decision to resume commercial whaling in October 2006, and was subsequently promoted to the status of Minister of State on the 16th November 2006, with responsibility for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare.
When Gordon Brown subsequently took over as Prime Minister he become the Minister of State in the Department of Health and was also given the responsibility of being Minister for the South West on the 28th June 2007, a move which would generally be regarded as a promotion, since the Department of Health ranks higher than DEFRA in the departmental pecking order. This was a surprise to some, since Ben had always been regarded as an enthusiastic Blairite. So much so in fact that he hailed Tony Blair as "one of the greatest prime ministers this country has ever seen" back in 1996, which was a trifle premature in the circumstances. Indeed Ben has widely been regarded as amongst the most sycophantic Labour MPs of his generation, and is therefore not that popular even within the ranks of his own party; or as one fellow Labour MP once put it, "I think it would be fair to say that beyond the Blairite vanguard, he's pretty widely disliked." He has also been damned by faint praise from the opposition, having been described by a similarly anonymous Conservative member as the "sort of careerist who should have joined the Tory party", who also noted that his party "used to be riddled with ideologically empty people like Bradshaw."
On the plus side his supporters have described him as "fundamentally a nice guy", and drawn attention to his passionate commitment to Europe, and his passionate commitment to cycling, which is about it really.
On the 24th June 2006 he became the first Member of Parliament to take advantage of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to form a civil partnership with his long term boyfriend Neal Dalgleish, noting that "It's a great comfort to me, and tens of thousands of others." Ben nevertheless remains a churchgoing Anglican, and has complained publicly that vicars were not allowed by the Church's rules to conduct a blessing. He is a member of several organisations including the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, the Socialist Environment and Resources Association, the Christian Socialist Movement, the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights, Stonewall and the Campaign for Real Ale.
- Ben Bradshaw MP Profile
- Ben Bradshaw MP
- Ben Bradshaw
- Exeter Labour Party
- Vote 2001 Results & Constituencies: Exter
- Andrew Gimson, Hey, good looking, The Spectator, Apr 20, 2002
- Ben Bradshaw, BBC News, 17 October, 2002
- Dominic Lutyens, The gay team, The Observer, October 26, 2003
- First Gay MP Wed, Sunday Mirror, 25/06/2006
- Helen Rumbelow and Alice Miles, Man who plans to change the wasteful way we shop for ever, The Times, January 27, 2007