Belfast Telegraph

Karen Bradley: Shy, loyal, and bit of an expert at avoiding the straight answer

By Suzanne Breen

Talking to those who know new Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley, she comes across as a carbon copy of her predecessor James Brokenshire.

"She is not a big personality or someone who likes being the centre of attention," said Phil Corrigan, a political reporter with Mrs Bradley's local newspaper, the Stoke Sentinel.

"She has a very low-profile presence on social media. Unlike her Cabinet colleagues, she doesn't even have an open Twitter account, which is highly unusual, and particularly since her last portfolio included digital.

"She is a close ally of Theresa May, whom she worked under at the Home Office. She is extremely loyal and can be guaranteed to toe the party line. In choosing her to succeed James Brokenshire, the Prime Minister has replaced like with like."

The political career of the Staffordshire Moorlands MP has been largely straightforward and uncontroversial until now - almost a tad dull - and Mrs Bradley must be hoping to continue in the same vein in Northern Ireland.

The 47-year-old, who had been Culture Minister for 18 months previously, is an unknown quantity to most political parties here, bar the DUP.

Its North Antrim MP Ian Paisley has built a good working relationship with her. "As DUP shadow spokesman for digital, culture, media and sport, I've got to know her well and I very much like her," he said.

"She is solid, the consummate safe pair of hands. I dealt with her on the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, gambling and gaming rights and reform of the BBC.

"I've never seen her in a flap about anything and that will serve her well in Northern Ireland. Karen is an extremely pleasant and professional person to deal with and has a strong unionist outlook."

Mr Paisley describes the new Secretary of State as "incredibly friendly and open". He said: "She really listens to your views and is straight in her dealings. That will be her strongest asset in her new job in Northern Ireland.

"She has been thrown in at the deep end here and told to swim but she is no dozer and will be on top of her brief very quickly."

Mr Paisley predicts "a honeymoon period until some eejit calls on her to resign".

Mrs Bradley has two sons, Matthew and Thomas, with husband Neil, a transport consultant. They live in Leek, the largest town in her constituency. She grew up 12 miles away in Buxton, where her family ran the Queen's Head Hotel and Pub.

Living above the premises gave her "a unique introduction to people from all walks of life", her website says.

Mrs Bradley went to the local comprehensive and then studied maths at Imperial College London. She worked as an accountant with both KPMG and Deloitte & Touche.

She was a late convert to politics after KPMG seconded her to advise the Tories on tax policy in 2002. "I was inspired by Michael Howard in particular," she told The Times. "After seven months I went to KPMG but it was too late, I was hooked." Mrs Bradley ran for Westminster three years later and failed to get elected, but was successful in 2010.

She served in the whip's office before being made a junior minister at the Home Office in 2014.

As Culture Minister she was criticised for vetoing the appointment of black female candidate Althea Efunshile, a former deputy chief of Arts Council England, as a non-executive director on the board of Channel 4 in 2016.

Efunshile was the only one of five candidates proposed by Ofcom to join the all-white board who was rejected. In a U-turn, she was appointed by the Government in December.

Mrs Bradley doesn't come across as a natural or suave TV performer. One interview with Piers Morgan, in which she avoided answering a question on the numbers of armed police officers in the UK, was heavily criticised.

The New Statesman said her performances as Culture Minister "have mainly been defined by her ability to dodge questions and avoid saying anything of any significance on everything from Rupert Murdoch to the BBC, presumably a trait highly valued by her similarly evasive boss Theresa May".

A crime thriller fan, Mrs Bradley told the Stoke Sentinel that she had "read every Morse, Dalziel and Pascoe, Frost and Rebus that's been printed and mourned the passing of far too many characters over the years, many of whom came to very sticky ends".

She reads Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol annually "starting on December 20 with Marley's Ghost, then a chapter every day until I finish on Christmas morning... it gets me in the mood". She cites "walking in the beautiful Staffordshire Peak District" and cooking as hobbies.

The new Secretary of State was a Remain supporter. The website They Work For You reports that she has consistently voted for equal gay rights and same-sex marriage and generally voted against smoking bans and laws to promote equality and human rights.

She has almost always voted "for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas" and has once voted against investigations into the Iraq War, it claims.

Belfast Telegraph

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