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Home truths for NI Secretary of State Karen Bradley

Karen Bradley Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Staffordshire Moorlands MP Karen Bradley was appointed NI secretary in January

From Belfast to Buxton to Biddulph, the performance of Karen Bradley as secretary of state for Northern Ireland is being watched with interest.

The MP’s political opponents have been quick to seize upon her admission about how little she knew about Northern Ireland before getting the job.

At the same time, her supporters have been defending her, with one Conservative councillor saying she would make a good Tory leader one day.

Staffordshire county councillor Ian Lawson, from Biddulph, says Mrs Bradley is “prime ministerial material”.

“She’s honest, and you don’t get many of them at Westminster, do you?” he added.

The secretary of state hit the headlines earlier this month after admitting she previously did not understand that “people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice-versa”.

‘Foolish’

It led to her being ridiculed in some quarters, but in her Staffordshire Moorlands constituency she has been defended in a local newspaper editorial.

“It’s not hard to feel sorry for her,” stated the Chronicle.

“Anyone who claims to actually understand Irish politics is possibly equally foolish.”

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mrs Bradley had never visited Northern Ireland until two days after she was put in charge of it

However, Labour councillor Jill Salt has no sympathy.

“I’m a teacher and I teach Northern Ireland politics to my students and I was astonished that she didn’t realise that they voted on partisan lines,” she said.

“And I was also astonished that she admitted that.”

Another Labour councillor, Bill Cawley, wrote a letter to the Leek Post and Times.

“You would expect some knowledge of the province or at least not to be so gauche as to proclaim your ignorance,” he wrote.

Mrs Bradley was appointed secretary of state for Northern Ireland in January, after previously being culture secretary.

‘Down to earth’

She has been an MP since 2010, after winning the Staffordshire Moorlands seat formerly held by Labour for more than a decade.

She grew up nearby in the Derbyshire town Buxton, where her parents owned a pub.

Image copyright Google Maps
Image caption Karen Bradley grew up over her parents’ pub, the Queens Head Hotel, in Buxton

Now married with two sons, she is a chartered accountant and worked for Deloitte & Touche and KPMG before entering parliament.

The fact that she had a career outside politics before becoming an MP is one of her strengths, according to local businessman Jon Eeles, who is the chairman of Leek Town football club.

“She’s very down to earth,” he says.

“As a chartered accountant in the Cabinet, one of the few, she has a different view than some of them.

“I have quite a dim view of politicians, because they are career politicians and have never worked in the real world. Karen is different.”

Image caption Leek Town FC chairman Jon Eeles praised Mrs Bradley’s business experience

Unlike some MPs, she is not high-profile on social media. In terms of TV and radio, her media appearances are limited.

‘Too honest’

She writes a regular local newspaper column but it tends not to be controversial or outspoken.

For example, her latest column is about a recent garden party she hosted at Hillsborough Castle.

“It was lovely to be able to show everyone what a very special place I reside in when I am in Northern Ireland,” she wrote.

Even though her job as secretary of state is across the Irish Sea, it is clear that what she does there is being watched 200 miles away, back in her constituency.

“I think in the end, she will get the job done,” says fellow Tory councillor Lawson.

He added: “I would say her only fault is that she is too honest. She says what she thinks.”

Image caption Councillor Ian Lawson told BBC News NI that Mrs Bradley is “prime ministerial material”

At the next election, Mrs Bradley will be defending a majority of more than 10,000 votes.

She is likely to be judged more on her success as a local MP rather than her Cabinet role.

In the end, Biddulph will be more important than Belfast.

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