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Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw says Labour must “work harder” for votes in the Westcountry

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: May 09, 2014

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Ben Bradshaw

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Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw has said Labour has to "work harder" for votes in the region but dismissed reports his party’s leader Ed Miliband faces a "revolt" among southern England candidates fearing electoral wipe-out.

National newspapers have reported would-be MPs from key target seats telling the Labour leader in a private meeting to stop "banging on about the bedroom tax" and adopt a more "aspirational" message.

But Exeter MP and former Cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw, who chaired the meeting, said there was "warm support" for Labour policies and that Mr Miliband understands "the need to appeal to people in the whole country".

Labour boasts just two MPs west of Bristol – Mr Bradshaw and Plymouth Moor View's Alison Seabeck – and is only seeking a further gain of Tory-held Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, which it lost in 2010, among more than 100 target seats at nest year's general election.

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But Mr Bradshaw has been a vocal advocate of the party needing to avoid a "southern discomfort", arguing it needs to appeal to voters beyond its northern heartlands.

Outside London, the Opposition now has just 10 MPs in the south of England, compared to more than 50 in Tony Blair's landslide victory in 1997.

A source was reported as suggesting Mr Miliband's meeting with 20 candidates from target seats in the south last month turned into a showdown over left-wing policies.

"People were very clear that we have to start saying less about austerity and more about aspiration," the source said.

"We have got to stop banging on about the bedroom tax and the North-South divide because those messages are not going to win for us in the south."

But Mr Bradshaw said: "I organised and chaired the meeting and it was not as described in some reports.

"By holding this special meeting with southern Labour candidates Ed shows he understand the need to appeal to people in the whole country.

"There was warm support for recent commitments on affordable housing, private rents and rocketing rail fares – all huge issues in the Westcountry and the rest of the South.

"Of course having fewer MPs means we have to work harder to get our message across, but I'm confident we have the right policies on the economy, cost of living, aspiration and reducing the deficit more fairly that will help us win back the seats in South West and rest of the South we need."

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