Bristol Mayoral Elections - who will Bristol back?

It’s a Tuesday night in Bristol at the City Academy‘s Fielden Theatre. Eleven of the thirteen candidates standing for Mayor of the city are gathered behind an extended top table in front of a packed live audience. This hustings has been called by the voluntary sector led by Black South West Network and grass roots campaigners ‘Up Our Streets’.

Simon Woolley, from Operation Black Vote, and I were called to open the proceedings with short speeches, well received by the mixed and enthusiastic audience. Then into the meat of the debate skillfully chaired by BCfm’s Pat Hart. The issues of institutionalised racism, education, employment and immigration got the ball rolling. A point made quite forcefully by black parents was the negative outcomes in school selection processes and how they continued to work against local BME communities

It was also fitting that Sado Jirde CEO of BSWN addressed the audience. Bristol is now home to over 10,000 Somali residents who constitute the biggest BME group and also perhaps it most marginalised. Shamsudin Abikar, a student at the University of West of England, wanted to know if the candidates had plans to deal with the lack of Somali participation and the disengagement faced by their community. The candidates were caught on the hop and could only talk in general terms about diversity and inclusion, rather than tackling local Somali issues head on. The situation has been likened to the creation of ‘a minority within a minority’ community. Mr Abikar sounded very disappointed. “I really haven’t got the specific answer that I wanted,” he lamented.

Onto housing; unsurprisingly just like in London, gentrification and the costs of housing was also a major theme for the audience. Housing remains a major issue for those running for Mayor. Most importantly it was acknowledged that it is the affordability of new homes which continues to be a huge constraint to Bristol’s economic growth and success.

Also in the room where I sat watching the debate was Paul Stephenson and his wife: leader of the 1963 Bus Boycott. The Bristol Omnibus Company refused to employ black or Asian bus crews in the city in the 60s. In common with other British cities, there was widespread racial discrimination in housing and employment at that time against "coloureds". The action led by youth worker Stephenson and the West Indian Development Council, lasted for four months until the company backed down and overturned the colour bar. The elderly statesman of community politics followed the debate with rapt attention. From what I could see his advanced age had clearly not diminished his appetite for the cut and thrust of local politics. 

The first mayoral election was held three and a half years ago which was narrowly won by George Ferguson. His main rival will likely be Labour's Marvin Rees. Unlike last time when the turnout was a paltry 27 per cent – less than one in three people bothering to vote – the turnout this time is likely to be much higher. And there are also all-out elections in Bristol for the first time. Instead of a third of wards contested each year, the elections will decide which 70 councillors will represent the four corners of the city for the next four years. In addition there will be an election to choose the next police commissioner for Avon and Somerset,

Throughout the City Academy debate participants in the audience were able to access handheld devices to indicate their support or opposition to what they heard from each of the speakers before making an overall vote for their favoured candidate at the end. And the winner was by a significant margin, Labour candidate Marvin Rees, who won 57% of the vote. He trounced the nearest rival, the sitting Mayor George Ferguson, who got 23% of the vote.

There are 13 candidates who are campaigning to become Bristol's next mayor. They are putting forward their views and policies in the run up to the election on Thursday, May 5.

The result for the new police commissioner will be declared on Friday, May 6 while the new mayor for Bristol will be declared on the following day, Saturday, May 7.

The results of the all-out council elections will be declared on Sunday, May 8