Trailblazing gay Labour MP Ben Bradshaw stepping down after 25 years: ‘The time feels right’

Trailblazing British Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has announced with “considerable sadness” he will step down as a lawmaker.

Bradshaw, the gay floppy-haired MP for Exeter, has represented the southwest England city for the past 25 years.

A former journalist working in local radio before entering Parliament in the late 1990s, the 61-year-old had spent decades running on a message of hard work and hope, positioning himself as an above-the-fray Labour MP in a widely Conservative region.

But he told DevonLive in an interview published Thursday (3 February) that he will not stand in the next general election, slated for 2024.

Ben Bradshaw to step down to move to Sicily with husband: ‘My rock’

“It is with considerable sadness that I have decided not to stand at the next general election,” he told the regional news outlet.

“There is never a perfect time to step down in politics and the exact timing is determined by the electoral cycle.

“But I will be 62 this year. If I fought the next election and won, I could be pushing 70 by the end of the next parliament.”

With the opposition party now steered by Keir Starmer, a former public prosecutor, Bradshaw said Labour is in “safe hands” under his leadership.

His “beautiful” constituency, meanwhile, is in “good shape locally”.

“The time,” Bradshaw said, “feels right to pass the baton on.

Conservative Party MP Sarah Wollaston (R) and Labour Party MP Ben Bradshaw (L) joined anti-Brexit supporters demonstrating outside the Parliament in 2019. (WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“One of the reasons the timing is now is the Labour Party has asked all sitting MPs if they will stand again as they want to get candidates in place in good time before the next election,” Bradshaw added.

Bradshaw said that he and his husband, BBC producer Neal Dalgleish, are planning to move to a smallholding in Sicily to grow vegetables.

“My husband has been an absolute rock for the past 26 years,” he said.

“The poor man when we got together had not expected I would become a politician. We were both working for the BBC as radio journalists and within a year of meeting me, I was a Labour candidate.

“Politicians spouses have a really tough time and he has handled it magnificently,” he said, adding that Dalgleish is now retraining to be a psychotherapist.

Gay Labour MP felt like ‘luckiest person alive’ to represent Exeter

Proudly open throughout his first election in 1997, Ben Bradshaw became only the second out gay man in Britain to be elected an MP on the first try.

Stephen Twigg, of Enfield Southgate, was the first, having been elected just 21 minutes before Bradshaw.

This was in contrast to his fellow LGBT+ lawmakers at the time, such as Chris Smith, who came out after being elected, making history as the first gay male MP.

Bradshaw’s election battle was not pretty. He sparred against Conservative candidate Adrian Rogers, a member of the religious right who led the bitterly anti-LGBT+ lobbying group the Conservative Family Institute.

Exeter balloters overwhelmingly voted for Bradshaw in the polls, however, coasting into office with a thumping majority of more than 11,000.

He went on to serve under multiple Labour governments and was appointed as culture secretary and health minister in Gordon Brown’s premiership.

Bradshaw even became the first cabinet minister to enter a civil partnership.

Ben Bradshaw. (GERARD CERLES/AFP via Getty Images)

Looking to the future, Bradshaw sounded an optimistic tone. He’s not sure who in the party will be his successor, but he’s confident officials will pick the right person for the job.

“There’s no obvious person to take over,” Bradshaw said. “Exeter has a fairly strong Labour seat now.

“It is such a beautiful place and there are not that many Labour seats outside of London so I suspect there will be a lot of interest.

“I’m confident in local Labour party members who will ultimately make the decision. They will select someone who will do the city proud and take Exeter forward to its next chapter.”

“I feel as if I am the luckiest person alive to have had this for 25 years,” he added.

“I will always be extremely grateful to the people who got me there and for their love and support.”