'Most people in Mansfield agree with me' - MP Ben Bradley questioned over the left-right divide
Mansfield MP Ben Bradley has made national headlines many times this year for social media comments – we met with him to discuss those criticising his use of his public platform and asked him his views on the current division in the town.
Mr Bradley has found himself in the spotlight this year, with celebrities such as Martin Luther King Jr’s daughter, Bernice King, footballer Marcus Rashford and comedian Jason Manford all weighing in to criticise him.
The MP’s social media comments have met with a mixed response, with some criticising his use of divisive language and bringing the town into the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
In response to the Free School Meals debate, Mr Bradley’s constituency office was vandalised and he received threats aimed at both himself and his family.
Asked if he thought he was helping or furthering the divide, he said: “I don’t stick these views out there to be intentionally divisive.
"I’m a human being and sometimes I make mistakes but, equally, some people are looking for a meaning that isn’t there.
"I can see though that I’ve made comments in the past that I shouldn’t have and that I do regret.
"Sometimes I get dragged into a debate which I probably shouldn’t and I need to get better at that.
"You can’t make good policy without discussing it, so that’s my intention, and I’m always happy to have that conversation with people as I find it interesting.
"I do think that most people in Mansfield agree with me though.”
Whilst some constituents see the new breed of politicians as a ‘breath of fresh air’, others disagree.
Phoebe Cox, from Warsop, said: “Using offensive terms and divisive language is doing a lot of harm, it is not an act of ‘free speech’, it actively hurts many communities.
"In society, we must all do our bit to learn from one another and find ways to help each other fight against issues of oppression, marginalisation and injustice.
“Solidarity in struggles must always prevail – not this divide and conquer technique that seems to be prevalent in politics.”
Mr Bradley invites members of his constituents group to take part in opinion polls, however this has also led to disapproval from some who criticise them for being worded in a way to elicit a specific response.
As the results are often posted as a yardstick of his constituents’ opinions, many see them as adding to the divisive nature of his social media.
He said: "I understand the polls are binary, but it’s mainly to open up conversations with people who I know live in my constituency.
"I read all the comments and I find it really interesting to see other people's opinions, so I urge people to look beyond the poll options and understand it’s purpose is to open up debate.”
As the MP’s social media following grows, there has also been a rise of groups and pages against the politician, such as ‘Unseat Ben Bradley’ and ‘Ben Bradley Doesn’t Speak For Us.’ These are growing in popularity, along with various satire pages, which he admits he is aware of, but remains unconcerned.
One group however which has piqued the interest of his critics is ‘Ben Bradley’s Blocked List’ – a group set up earlier this year for constituents who have been blocked from his constituents group or official MP page.
The group information page states: “This group was set up to highlight how many people have been blocked by Ben Bradley MP and find out the reasons why.
"Under no circumstances is this to be abusive about anyone.”
Members of the group claim they have been blocked from the MP’s page for having a difference of opinion, and asking difficult questions, which the MP denies.
"I’ll block people for a couple of reasons – most of my block list will just be those who get abusive on every post,” Mr Bradley said.
"I don’t need to see that and nor do my constituents – it isn’t helpful.
"With others it may be because they repeatedly post the same comments on every piece, usually without any relevance to what I’m actually writing about.
"They have an agenda and it’s very clear they will just repeatedly spam the comments section as they do on other pages.
“I’m always happy to discuss concerns with constituents.
"If they think they've been blocked for no reason, by all means they can email me.
"If a mistake has been made, the block can be lifted.”
However, some people feel that blocking constituents is undemocratic and is creating an ‘echo chamber’.
Tim Watson, a constituent from Mansfield said: “I feel this whole thing sets a dangerous precedent whereby politicians can escape scrutiny, whilst at the same time happily using these tools to force what they think is popular opinions on constituents without accommodating alternative dialogue.
"It’s just not healthy or democratic – I was blocked from commenting for posting a public link to his voting record in parliament, that’s it.”
Further criticism has been aimed at the politician surrounding his use of ‘the left’ as a negative term in some social media posts, leaving some of his previous voters, who see themselves as left-of-centre on the political spectrum, wondering whether the MP is the best fit to represent their interests.
Mr Bradley said: “I think most people are left-of-centre in terms of the economy – we all want more public spending – but I do believe a lot of people are right-of-centre culturally in terms of issues such as immigration.
"If people are worried about something they may have read, I’m quite happy to discuss it with them.
"At the end of the day, I'm a Conservative politician with a view and opinion, it’s not really my job to be completely balanced.”