My article from the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday March 27th. Original text here.
The media descended on my Mansfield constituency in the Spring of 2017. It featured almost daily on the news or in the papers when the Conservative party were 20 points ahead in the polls, but as the national picture steadily declined the press grew increasingly sceptical about our chances there.
Despite the national swing, in seats like mine we still went on to secure unexpected victories. From the many days and weeks we spent out on the doorsteps talking to local residents I know that there were two reasons for wins such as mine: Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn. Those two things were the catalyst for a place like Mansfield, a seat that had been Labour for 100 years and literally never had a Conservative MP before, to make a huge shift in its politics.
Those issues overcame decades of emotive politics around Thatcherism and the mining industry, the closure of the pits and everything that came along with it. For the first time the Conservative Party was speaking to Mansfield in a way that Labour could not under Corbyn’s leadership.
My experience growing up just a few miles from Mansfield, and of all my career in North Nottinghamshire politics, is that these traditional working class communities are actually largely socially conservative. They agree with my party on issues like personal responsibility, on making work pay, welfare reform and supporting the military, and they’re generally a patriotic bunch.
History rather than policy had led many of them to vote Labour, but Corbyn is anathema to those values. His Labour party flies in the face of everything they believe. In fact, I regularly heard it very directly: "I’ve always been Labour but I could never vote for HIM!"
Labour were out of touch, and where Labour had lost the respect of communities like these, we were promising to deliver for them. Mansfield voted 71 per cent leave in the referendum, and in 2017 I campaigned on a promise to deliver Brexit. It was hugely important to my community, who after decades of feeling that nobody listened had finally found a voice and been involved in shaking up the status quo. It was an issue and an outcome that had brought them hope that they could actually play a part in democracy. As David Cameron had said, "This is a once in a generation choice. The Government will implement what you decide."
This is what I fear ministers don’t understand. They focus on all of the economic angles of Brexit without considering the emotional ones. We made a promise to communities like Mansfield, that we would implement their decision and leave the European Union. We promised that we would leave on March 29, and we said that "no deal is better than a bad deal"’.
Whilst I and many colleagues have stuck by the commitments we made in our manifesto, the Government is currently reneging on those promises. As a result of decisions they have taken, we are now no longer leaving on that date, and the Prime Minister has not stuck to her word.
My voters trusted us for the first time ever to deliver for them, and if we don’t then they simply will not trust us again. In seats like mine we were elected because we promised to deliver Brexit. Pure and simple. Three years and much "can-kicking" later we seem no clearer about just how that will happen, and I have to say that near enough every single conversation I have with constituents ends with "just get us out".
They say they did not vote for a "deal" or a "fudge" or a compromise, and they certainly have no appetite for Parliament "taking control" or holding indicative votes. They voted to leave. Leave the institutions, stop paying them the money, stop taking their rules. A clean break. There were 11,500 Ukip voters in Mansfield in 2015, and now just 2,500. If ensuring Brexit is delivered is still the defining issue at the next election that will mean we have failed, and it means those voters will return from whence they came.
As a Tory MP, I find myself now in an invidious position, torn between voting through a deal that - as I have written before - is riddled with grievous flaws, and choosing to face an uncertain future in which Brexit will inevitably get softer and possibly will be scrapped entirely. I understand the frustration of my constituents; they often say ‘’just leave with no deal’’ and I wish it were that simple, but the truth is that Parliament will bring the Government down before it allows that to happen.
Having been boxed into a corner in recent days by the Prime Minister, it was with a heavy heart - and against all of my instincts - that I felt the deal may be our only way out of this crisis. Even that now seems unlikely. Parliament is trying to take control and force us in to a customs union, and that is not something I can accept. It is not something the Prime Minister should accept either!
Ben Bradley is the Conservative MP for Mansfield