Labour deputy leadership contender Ben Bradshaw: ‘We went backwards against the Tories’

Former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw who is standing for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party.

Former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw who is standing for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party. Laura Lean/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw is holding a 'meet and greet' in Norwich tomorrow at the Open venue on Bank Plain from 1pm until 2pm. He writes about growing up in Norfolk and why he wants to be deputy leader of the Labour Party.

I was brought up in Morningthorpe, near Long Stratton, where my Dad was Rector-in-charge of the Hempnall Group of parishes. Mum was a primary school teacher in Wymondham. It was an idyllic childhood - cycling to school, first in Morningthorpe and, when that tiny school closed, to Hempnall, outdoor play and helping with the harvest.

In my early teens, Dad got a job at Norwich Cathedral and we moved into the city. It was a wrench at first, but it made the daily journey to school in Thorpe easier and I soon began to appreciate the advantages of living in the heart of a 'Fine City'.

This was a golden age for Norwich Labour Party. We had two excellent MPs - David Ennals in Norwich North and John Garrett in Norwich South. The council, run by the formidable Patricia Hollis, now Baroness Hollis of Heigham, was considered a model in the land. And the Labour club in Bethel Street was a hive of social and political activity.

One of my older sisters, who still lives in Norwich, was active in the Labour Party and got me to help delivering leaflets. At election times we plastered the front of our home in Cathedral Close with Labour posters, which didn't always go down well with the neighbours! I still have the photograph, taken by the EDP, of me meeting the then Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, on an official visit to the Cathedral.

Then in 1979, Labour lost in Norwich North and we began nearly two decades of Conservative rule. John Garrett hung on in Norwich South, but he, too, was swept away in the Tory landslide of 1983.

This history matters, because we should not assume, after this year's traumatic defeat for Labour, that things can't get even worse. It took my Party 18 long years to haul itself back to electability in the 1980s and 1990s and I don't want us to have to go through that again. That is why I am running for the deputy leadership of the party I love.

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Exeter is not unlike Norwich. A proud cathedral and university city - a Labour citadel in a Conservative county. Except, unlike Norwich, Exeter had almost never had a Labour MP, until I won there in 1997. Since then, we have turned what used to be a safe Tory seat into a solid Labour one and we trebled Labour's majority in May.

I cheered loudly when news of Clive Lewis' win in Norwich South came through. It's great to have a Labour MP back in Norwich. But Clive beat a Liberal Democrat.

In those seats where Labour needed to beat the Tories - Norwich North, Yarmouth, Waveney and across England and Wales - we actually went backwards. We lost because we had a big deficit with the Conservatives on economic trust and leadership.

To win the next general election Labour needs a strategy for the Greens, UKIP and for Scotland. But four of the five voters we have to win back to get a majority voted Conservative on May 7th. If David Cameron forces through constituency boundary changes, there will be more seats, proportionally, below the Wash-Bristol Channel line outside London, making Labour's task even harder. We won't just have to win back seats like Norwich North, Waveney and Yarmouth, but some places Labour has never won before, like Basingstoke in Hampshire! This is the size of our challenge.

I am the only candidate running for Leader or Deputy Leader with a record of winning and building for Labour in a former safe Conservative seat of the kind of we need to win back. It's not about moving left or right, but broadening Labour's appeal, to rebuild that great coalition of support that won us three historic victories between 1997 and 2005. Labour wins when we lock our passion for equality and social justice with people's ambition and aspiration for themselves and their families.

Labour councils like Norwich are doing a great job in difficult circumstances. But we can only put our values into practice nationally by winning general elections. I wouldn't be standing to be Deputy a Leader if I didn't think we can win in 2020. With the right leadership team, the right political approach and the right organisation, I know we can and I believe I can help.