Amanda Ramsay reports from Bristol on the city’s “yes” vote for an elected Mayor in Thursday’s referendum - the only city to vote in favour.
With one of the government’s key policies now in tatters, with nine out of the ten English cities holding a referendum on Thursday flicking metaphoric V’s at the prime minister’s much campaigned for ‘Cabinet of Mayors’, Bristol alone opted to say “yes” to an elected mayor and there will now be a city-wide election on November 15th.
With an active cross-party “yes” campaign backed heavily by the daily newspaper Bristol Post and local business leaders, through the Business West Bristol chamber of commerce, were actively urging its members to vote “yes” with campaigning emails on polling day.
Left Foot Forward understands the ‘no’ campaign received funding from several Liberal Democrat councillors and the Co-operative Party.
Simon Crew, secretary of Bristol Co-operative Party Council, told Left Foot Forward:
“We donated £300 for leaflets. If this was one of the largest donations this shows how unbalanced the campaign was compared to big Tory business donations and donations in kind from the Evening Post on the ‘yes’ side.”
Selection for the Labour Party mayoral candidate will be swift, with self-nominations closing on May 11th. The selection will be carried out by a one member one vote process and will be by postal ballot run by Electoral Reform Services.
Having a strong candidate in place will be the next critical step to Labour winning back governance of the city, which is currently in Lib Dem hands.
Dedicated teams of campaigners across the city will be mobilised once Labour’s candidate is in place by June 15th and as a local Labour officer in the city I can confirm the party is very much up for the fight.
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Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East, told Left Foot Forward:
“As every other city has rejected a mayor, the Tories are going to throw absolutely everything they’ve got into Bristol between now and 15 November.”
The Liberal Democrats will no doubt be going hell for leather to win, given they are currently in charge of Bristol city council, but public disillusionment runs deep over unemployment, education and waste collection, let alone bus services and anti-social behaviour.
As Darren Lewis, chair of Bristol Labour Party, tells Left Foot Forward:
“This is Labour’s to win.
“The Lib Dems don’t have the capacity to win across the city, the Tories are nowhere in Bristol, while the Greens opposed an elected mayor and in any case only have enough members to campaign in a couple of wards at a time; Labour is in a strong position.
“This result was a rejection of business as usual, With local political figures rejecting the power hegemony of officers running the show rather than elected councillors and therefore an elected mayor can only be a good thing.”
One local Bristol charity worker who enthusiastically voted ‘yes’ told Left Foot Forward:
“I am delighted that the majority in Bristol have voted in favour of a mayoral election later this year. Bristol is in need of some consistent leadership and I believe an elected Bristol Mayor could offer this.
“I understand for the cities that are working well, they may not have wished to vote in favour of a mayor, however just look at the problems within education in Bristol and you can see this city is not working well and is in need of some clear and strong strategic direction.
“An elected mayor could offer this, with the right candidate.”
Birmingham was expected to follow suit, especially given three senior Labour politicians – all former ministers – campaigned for a “yes”, though last-minute wobbles were picked up before polling day.
There has since been talk of dirty campaigning along the lines of Nottingham’s “negative campaign leaflet, alleging the BNP and the English Defence League wanted a mayor, which was distributed outside mosques and to local Asian broadcasters,” explains Jo Tanner, from the Yes Campaign.
Quick off the mark, Liam Byrne, MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, who campaigned for a “yes”, has already been demanding “more power and money for Birmingham”. It will be interesting to see if the prime minister is good to his word, having assured the House of Commons liaison committee back in March that extra powers could be obtained, mayor or no mayor.
Bristol’s new mayor will join newly elected mayors Joe Anderson for Liverpool and Ian Stewart in Salford, as the two city councils had already decided to adopt a mayoral system themselves without a referendum.
Prior to these elections, there were already 15 elected mayors across the UK. Leicester city council voted to introduce a mayor in 2010, and an election was held in 2011 electing Peter Soulsby for Labour.
On Thursday, the people of Doncaster also voted to retain their existing elected mayoral system, having been one of the earliest authorities to adopt elected mayors in 2001.
The focus this May on elected mayors is the result of the government passing legislation in their Localism Act to permit Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield to have referendums. Only Bristol said yes.
One Labour Party member who voted by postal vote, Left Foot Forward contributor Ben Mitchell, said:
“This is fabulous news for the city, Bristol has been crying out for real leadership and direction for as long as I can remember.
“A mayor finally gives the city the opportunity to escape the quagmire of never-ending hung councils. Speak to any Bristolian and they’ll tell you this is a great city, plagued by poor services, such as its buses, chronically unreliable and stupidly expensive; solving that alone will make the new mayor a hero overnight, and probably guarantee re-election.”
And businesswoman Jaya Chakrabarti, who chaired the campaign for an elected mayor in Bristol, told Left Foot Forward:
“This was a real victory for local people. The next step is to engage with the whole community and put together a people’s manifesto. There’s everything to play for.”
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