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Bristol mayoral election Thursday 5 may 2016: voting information the candidates who they are what they say

April 27, 2016

mayorThis booklet, sent out to every voter, not just one per household, is almost a complete waste of time and money.

Indeed, the whole idea of an elected mayor is a waste of time and a travesty of democracy. We vote in local councillors who are accessible to us and who know their ward well. But the mayor has the power to override anything they decide and the current holder of the post is more like an elected dictator. (Though, to be fair, recent councils have faied to take important decisions so it is argued that there needs to be a strong figure to ‘kick ass’.)

That’s why I voted against the idea of having an elected mayor in the referendum in 2012. But the stupid people of Bristol, who have delusions of grandeur, thought it would put us on a part with London if we had our own Boris. Many now regret that decision but there is no means to undo it and vote to terminate the post. More’s the pity.

In my area, we voted against a residents’ parking zone no less that three times. It would be bad for local businesses and would prove difficult for my work as a spiritual director since people drive to me from considerable distances and may not find a parking space or can only stay for an hour. It also makes funerals difficult – I have often seen the indignity of a hearse parked in the middle of then road while the coffin is carried aloft over the tops of parked cars to get into church. And again out of it.

Despite our wishes, the mayor imposed a parking zone. When questioned by my local councillor his attitude was patronising, condescending and downright rude. I watched, aghast, as I saw all the councillors sat in rows in front of the major seated on dais – a seating plan reminiscent of the grammar school where I did my teaching practice forty years ago. His response to my councillor: ‘Well Cllr. Martin, I am in a good mood today because someone gave me some chocolate. So if you’re a good boy I’ll answer your objection.’ If I spoke to a pupil or a parishioner like that, I’d deserve to be caught up in a disciplinary procedure.

So we have the second election and this booklet tells us about the candidates – except that 5 of them don’t appear and we’re not told why.

The first candidate, the order of appearance having been chosen by lots, is Tony Britt, an independent who has some art work instead of a photo.  He’s interesting because he spent six months living rough on the streets of Bristol in 2010. He has not been able to work since suffering an industrial injury in 2004, so now lives off benefits, and spends his time volunteering for a number of charities around east Bristol. One of his clear preoccupations is that Freemasons are “running the city”. “Bristol is the masonic capital of the world. They’re everywhere, and they have so much power, you wouldn’t believe it, see? I know because I once had an argument with a couple of Freemasons I used to work for – and I never got anywhere after that, because their influence stretches so far across the city. You know the bottom of the M32 – the bit they redesigned a few years back?” he adds. “They constructed the road system there so that from the sky it looks like the Masonic compass symbol. That’s how much power they have.”

He cites a protest in 1373 and wants a new charter to met similar demands against the merchants who run the city.

Next up is the existing mayor in the red trousers, George Ferguson.  Such is his arrogance that he doesn’t writer much about what he’ll do. He merely states his record to date. One specious promise is that he’ll build some new council houses. What he doesn’t tell us is that he sold off many existing council houses recently. He championed a 20 mph speed limit was was caught speeding. To his credit, he refused to attend a hustings that was held at an evangelical church with a homophobic record. I too have refused to attend anything held there.

Tony Dyer is the Green party candidate. His manifesto is ‘worthy’ – carbon emissions, rents, alternatives to the car, apprenticeships BMEs. He also champions recycling – not I’d be careful on that one because my own Green councillor didn’t even know we had some recycling bins near me and that they’ve disappeared without a word of explanation.

 Next up is Labour’s Marvin Rees. He is the only serious opposition to Ferguson. He grew up in the city and is a member of Christians on the Left (former Christian Socialist Movement). Like most candidates, he’s going to build new houses though I don’t this has been costed. He wants to bit for European Capital of Culture status – but we already have this.

A message from Marvin’s team:”We are in a real battle at the moment with the current Mayor who is attacking Marvin for his faith and using very dirty tactics, calling Marvin a homophobe to the media and this week went on the radio to say he does not want our city run by “narrow minded, holier than thou Christians”.

 A local paper pointed out that: Marvin “Luther” Rees, Labour’s increasingly deranged mayoral candidate, has decided to CLOSE DOWN all the strip clubs in Bristol. The SOCIALLY CONSERVATIVE Christian confirmed on International Women’s Day that this will happen as soon as he becomes mayor.

 Then comes what one paper describes as Charles “Thicko” Lucas. His publicity leaflets are by far the best of anything that’s come through my door (though he is less impressive in the flesh, at hustings.) He will be popular for wanting to review 20 mph and parking zones. I’d even be tempted to vote for him myself because he promises to curb the mayors power – 75% of elected councillors have to agree on anything he proposes. But he’s a Tory and, harder to find out, a Merchant Venturer (they’re the lost who ran slavery back in the day and who still have their fingers in many pies around the city.) He wants a new train station at the Portway park and ride but doesn’t see the implications for nearby Shirehampton station. he wants to build other newe railways stations but doesn’t see the implications of cost and compulsory purchase of land. He alienates people by calling Marvin Rees ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s Mayor’.  He also supports a candidate form police commissioner who simply states that he has ‘a plan for reduciong crime’ buit doesn’t say what it is.

 Then we have Paul Turner. He’s UKIP and I can’t see the relevance of is party to local affairs. His promises are ‘worthy and similar to those of other candidates and he might be popular for wanting to review parking zones and 20 mph. He stood for MP in the last General Election so is he merely desperate for any power, regardless?

 LibDem. Kay Barnard  wants a system like London’s Oyster cards – that would speed up buses but some will argue that they are an infringement of civil liberties, something I thought the libdems were keen about. She wants a new train station at the Portway park and ride but doesn’t see the implications for nearby Shirehampton station. She wants to review parking zones.

 Tom Baldwin is the Trade Unionist Against the Cuts.  He’s going to reverse the cuts but doesn’t say where the money is coming from. He wants a £10 minimum wage and opposes the enforced academisation of schools (which is surely illegal thouigh desirable).

Paul Saville * isn’t in the booklet. He’s the man who caught the mayor swearing on video, will stand against George Ferguson in next May’s election. Saville was told: “I’ve listened to you, now fuck off,” by Ferguson during an altercation in the Bearpit in 2013. In a short statement aimed at winning backers, Saville said Ferguson had “singlehandedly override [sic] our democracy – and should be stopped as soon as possible”. He also coined a new term – “Gentriferguson” – to describe “skyrocketing” rental prices and the impact of student accommodation and “plush hotels” in the city centre. Saville appeared on ITV’s Parking Wars earlier this year where he was seen being ejected from a council meeting discussing residents’ parking zones and arguing with contractors painting new parking bays in Montpelier. Savile has been addressing issues around street homelessness, particularly the council’s REFUSAL to open any of their buildings for temporary shelter to the growing number of people living on the streets.

Finally, we have Christine Townsend *, who has been highlighting the dubious practice of SELECTION BY WEALTH AND CLASS in Bristol’s secondary schools. This is her only platform and she has nothing to say about any other issue. She was a secondary teacher  – you can tell that by her poor spelling in this booklet  but she resigned when the coalition government refused to make PSHE part of the National Curriculum (but it never was – most of us have stayed in the system to fight it, not run away in an attention-seeking but fairly futile gesture.)

* Christine “Pete” Townsend and Paul “Mister Tea” Savile are deliberately NOT invited to the hustings. Coincidentally, both have been raising difficult questions for the other candidates.

We also have our very own porn star – John Langley (aka Johnny Rockard) – He used to be vice chairman of Bristol’s UKIP Party but left rather acrimoniously at the time after he posted a video of himself engaging in a lewd sexual act with a consenting adult in Castle Park. “The reason I am standing is because the people who support me believe I am a man of the people. “I come from a vastly different background from the other candidates; I am sure they have all had their struggles in their various ways but I can assure everybody that I am the only one that has had the kind of life that I have had. I therefore understand the struggles that people have.” His childhood was spent in middleclass London, the son of strict Irish Roman Catholic parents who shattered him at the age of eight when he overheard them rowing about him and describing him as the black sheep of the family.

This episode was a huge turning point in his life because it triggered all kinds of mental health issues and several suicide attempts when he was only ten or 11 years of age. He was pushed into joining the Royal Army Medical Corps but was summoned by a captain after six weeks and told that if he wanted to serve Queen and country, his best option was to resign. He did so and subsequently ploughed through 36 jobs in 18 months before going out to buy some cigarette papers one day and not going back. He was now 18 and ended up living homeless on the streets, becoming alcoholic and later a drug addict. It should be pointed out that a negative aspect of his curriculum vitae is a conviction for assault on a four-year-old child which happened nearly 40 years ago. John has previously said that the incident had a profound effect on his own life and that the child’s mother supported him in court. At one stage of his life, he was living in a gypsy caravan in Cornwall, living as a recluse except journeying into Plymouth once a week with his pet goose, Gertrude, to buy all kinds of books from spiritual bookshops. He was eventually diagnosed in Exeter with personality disorders. “There were about 13 but I stopped at three because I felt I had started to collect them like Tesco clubcard points.” High on his list would be the scrapping of RPZs because he believes that the majority of people don’t like them.

At local level, Tories and Greens both claim to have saved our library from closure. This is simply untrue – it was the libdems. Also, one of the candidates for Labour in my ward has been sacked from the Labour Party for selling illegal Viagra under the counter at his corner shop.

Why the mayoral election is so important

Former MP for Bristol West, Stephen Williams, points out:

Most but not all of the city council’s powers lie in the hands of the Mayor. He or she is in charge of social services, the council’s biggest responsibility and the service that swallows up most of the budget. Building on the new Better Care Fund and partnership working between social care and the NHS will be a huge challenge for the next Mayor as we cope with an aging society. The Mayor also sets the council’s policy on culture and leisure, waste disposal and has limited powers over transport and housing. He proposes the council’s budget and hence the level of council tax but the budget has to be passed by a majority of the councillors. The councillors also determine planning applications and grant drink and entertainment licences. While the Mayor acts as a figurehead and ambassador for the whole city the councillors act as local champions for the 34 wards that make up the city.

So most of the power is now in the hands of the Mayor, which makes the character and beliefs of that person rather significant. A city leader certainly needs to be someone who is prepared to make tough decisions. The Mayor also needs to be a good communicator, getting his message across to Bristolians and also giving the best impression of the city to the rest of the world. But a good communicator listens as well as broadcasts. Tough decisions are more likely to be accepted if they are explained patiently and arrived at after a period of genuine consultation.

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