Mansfield MP Ben Bradley's office targeted after Twitter row over free school meals
MP Ben Bradley hit the headlines at the weekend for his Tweets around free school meals with celebrities weighing in on the debate, and his Mansfield office has since been targeted by vandals in response.
An online row erupted over the weekend after Tweets from Mansfield’s MP, Ben Bradley, caused concern online – which he now admits were ‘a mistake’.
In a conversation with one Twitter user, Mr Bradley made claims about his Mansfield constituency in which he said ‘75 per cent of kids have a social worker, 25 cent of parents are illiterate,’ adding ‘one kid lives in a crack den, another in a brothel’.
In response, one Twitter user replied that ‘£20 cash direct to a crack den and brothel really sounds like the way forward’.
Mr Bradley then responded with: “That’s what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did.”
The Tweets were met with a raft of concerned comments, with screenshots of the now-deleted Tweets being shared around the country, picking up criticism from both Mansfield constituents and celebrities.
Mr Bradley explained: “I know I Tweeted something stupid, I took it down and have sought to clarify what I meant.
"I know and understand why some people are upset by it, I made a mistake.
“I also recognise that there has been a major failure in communications around this week’s vote on free school meals.
"I have sought to explain that this was not a vote to not help kids, simply a decision to help in a different way, but I know that there are lots of false narratives about this in the media and online.
"Nobody voted to not feed children.”
One concerned Mansfield constituent said: “I’m shocked and horrified that a man who has been elected to do the best for his constituency would seek to demonise some of the very people he is meant to be supporting.
"Mansfield needs someone compassionate and supportive towards the families who have fallen on hard times and have nowhere to turn in their darkest hour.”
Comedian Jason Manford Tweeted about the vote, prompting a response from Mr Bradley to deny that MPs were in receipt of a £25 voucher towards their meal expenses.
In a series of Tweets from his official Twitter account, @BBradley_Mans, he sought to clarify that ‘these 'vouchers' DO NOT EXIST’.
Jason Manford responded: “Okay not a ‘voucher’ but are you saying @BBradley_Mans that MPs don’t claim back £25 expenses to pay for their meals?
"This doesn’t happen does it?
"In your already subsidised luxury restaurant?
"Keep trying to pick holes, but you’re the one who voted against feeding children son.”
A conservative party councillor Duncan Flynn even Tweeted an appeal to Mr Bradley: “For the good of the party's reputation, please just stop digging,” which was Retweeted by the comedian.
Mr Bradley simply replied: “No.”
The MP’s Mansfield office was also targeted by vandals at the weekend, with graffiti that called for the Conservative Government to be taken “out” of power and contained obscene language, scrawled all over the windows of the office on Church Street.
Mr Bradley continued: “A mistake doesn’t make it right to target my staff and my wife with threats and abuse, or to damage public property at the expense of local taxpayers.
"My staff literally spend their lives trying to help local people and they deserve to feel safe at work.
"My family are not responsible for my actions.
"I’m sure that the vast majority of law abiding and sensible local people can appreciate that.
"These incidents and threats have been reported to the police.”
His constituents were shocked to hear that his office had been vandalised and his facebook post announcing the damage was met with hundreds of supportive comments from constituents, even from those who had disagreed with his previous Tweets.
One resident said: “Unbelievable. I’m shocked and saddened to read this.
“Sadly this is the mentality of some people and, although I don’t always agree with you Mr Bradley, I do believe you are a hard working MP wanting to make positive change.
"To have this happen is simply wrong.”
In several posts over the weekend the MP sought to clarify his stance, explaining that the current blanket scheme would not ensure those who needed it got the help they needed.
In a post today, he explained how someone with eligibility to free school meals could begin to earn over the threshold for entitlement but retain their eligibility when it wasn’t needed, as eligibility was not adjusted when personal circumstances changed.
This explanation seemed to win over some of his critics, with one Mansfield resident saying: “Maybe putting it like this in the first place, instead of the comments you made would have got you a better response?”
Mr Bradley went on to explain: “Whatever some may want to believe, nobody goes in to politics wanting to do harm.
"We do it because we believe in something or want to change something.
"That's why I campaign relentlessly in support of working class kids and improving their life chances.
“Nobody has voted not to help kids this week.
"Nobody has reduced or cut support for kids through this pandemic.
"If you want facts - they are quite important - we've increased Universal Credit, extended eligibility for FSM and provided them over the summer, increased school budgets, given £63m to councils to identify and target families who are in need, and handed out grants to thousands of charities to help in the same way.
"I've personally said something stupid this week, it was an error and I've removed and explained it.
"It doesn't actually make me evil.”
Inspector Nick Butler, district commander for Mansfield, said: “We are investigating an incident of criminal damage at an address in Church Street, Mansfield, and also a number of potentially malicious communications.
“Anyone with information about these incidents is asked to call 101 quoting incident number 134 of 26 October.”