Bristol elected mayor debate

23 02 2012

Roger Cordewaner, 1216, Bristol’s first Mayor and the first name engraved into the walls at the Conference Room at the Council House, where every one of Bristol’s subsequent Mayors, and since 1899, Lord Mayors, are displayed for time immemorial. There is plenty of space left on the wall where Christopher Davies, 2008 and 2009, is the last name engraved.

It may be that the names that follow Davies and the current incumbent Geoff Gollop, will not solely be ceremonial Lord Mayors, but directly-elected mayors with real powers other than brandishing a sword, being able to drive sheep over the Suspension Bridge and welcoming royal visitors.

It was in the Conference Room last night where a debate about a potential future elected mayor for Bristol took place. It is a debate that is sure to hot up as we approach May 3, the day the people of Bristol will be asked in a referendum whether we would like to see an elected mayor for the city.

Judging by the audience last night at the debate organised by the Festival of Ideas and Bristol University’s Centre for Public Engagement, 47% are in favour of a directly elected mayor, 36% against the idea, with 17% undecided.

In favour of this new position last night were red-trousered architect George Ferguson and deputy leader of the Conservative group in Bristol, Mark Weston, not to be confused with Bristol comedian Mark Watson. Speaking against were Lib Dem council leader Barbara Janke, who admitted that her being in favour of an elected mayor would be like a turkey voting for Christmas; and strategy consultant Deborah Hallett.

Janke’s lack of charisma was a clear indication why Bristol needs an elected mayor. One of these candidates may well be Ferguson, who was the most engaging speaker regardless of the suspicion that this was the ideal opportunity to unofficially throw his hat into the ring.

Having a directly elected could be “a disaster”, we were told by Professor Alex Marsh from Bristol University’s School for Policy Studies. This was a fear shared by Janke, who told of her worry that having such a figure would bring “a great many risks”.

“I do not believe that a single person is adequate to represent all the people in this city,” Clifton councillor Janke said, adding that our current system of councillors representing their local communities works perfectly fine.

Watson called the idea of an elected mayor a “no-brainer”. He said: “An elected mayor would be able to have the gravitas and vision. They will be elected on a mandate for the strategic vision of our city. The ability to have a strong leader and a strong and clear mandate will be vital for the future success of our city.”

Ferguson used an anology: “We are an escalator that is going up quite fast but we can run up it a bit faster.”

“Change is a very hard thing to do,” said the soft-spoken Hallett, a recent adviser to the London Development Agency. She added: “Why would you narrow down your perspective from the impact you have already got?”

Campaigning for and against a directly elected mayor will be a non-partisan issue. The yes group have been up and running for a while, with named supporters including chairman of Bristol Media Paul Appleby and former Labour prospective MP Paul Smith. The no group announced their formation yesterday and are led by Lib Dem councillor Tim Kent.

There will be many more names engraved into the walls of the Conference Room at the Council House. For the first time ever, it could soon be up to the people of Bristol to decide who those names should be.

With thanks to Trevor Haddrell for the engravings. See and buy more of his work here.


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2 responses

23 02 2012
Alex Marsh

Thanks for an engaging summary of the event.

I would just note that what I said last night was: “The move to an Elected Mayor can be successful and transform a local authority or the move can be a disaster, as it has been in a couple of high profile cases”. You can read the whole of my introduction here if you’re interested: http://www.alexsarchives.org/?p=3183

15 04 2012
Campaigns get people to care about an elected mayor « Benlowndes

[…] There have been blog posts on elected mayors on Left Foot Forward and Bristol Culture. […]

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