‘Palpably apathetic’ Bristol voters will suffer elected mayor

The leader of Bristol City Council has attacked plans for an elected mayor in the city, saying a vocal minority could impose their views

The leader of Bristol City Council has attacked plans for an elected mayor in the city, saying a vocal minority could impose their views on a “palpably apathetic” electorate.

Barbara Janke released her views in a document yesterday outlining her opposition to an elected mayor for Bristol.

A referendum is due in the summer, in which Bristol voters will be asked if they want a directly elected mayor, as those in London are able to do.

The plans are part of the coalition government’s plans to improve accountability in cities across the UK.

Last September, the Institute for Government called for directly elected mayors to be given more powers over planning and policing, as well as the power of veto over the appointment of chief executives.

People in Bristol, along with those in Birmingham and Leeds, will be the first of 12 cities across the UK to vote in a referendum next May to decide whether to have elected mayors.

Cities minister Greg Clark launched a consultation, aimed at establishing how “mayors can enhance the governance, provide strong and accountable democratic local leadership, while enhancing the prestige of our largest cities”.

Labour peer Lord Adonis, director of the Institute for Government, said in a letter to the government about the Localism Bill last year that the system of governance in Bristol was “working particularly badly”.

This stung Ms Janke into denouncing the “airily offensive remark”. Now she has set out her opposition to the plans in full.

She said yesterday: “Most people in local government surely support a localist agenda. They do not come into politics to surrender powers to Whitehall. But the Coalition government’s avowed support for localism is not always matched by its practice. This is clearly the case with elected mayors.

“There can be no doubt that most members of the public are uninterested and the subject switches them off. It does, though, provoke strong feelings in some circles and most politicians have a view one way or the other.

“The Centre for Cities report acknowledges that mayors will only really work well if the government gives them enhanced powers. My feeling is that this is the nub of it. It is the enhanced powers we want – not an unnecessary change in the present system of governance.

“In fact, there is a very strong case for retaining the present system and voting against the idea of an elected mayor. The electorate is palpably apathetic and there is a real danger of having elected mayors imposed onBristol by a tiny minority of enthusiasts if the referendum turnout is low enough.”

Ms Janke went on to add that the cost of a referendum and first election for a mayor would cost the city £1.5million – the cost of which to the city is “not warranted”.

Bristol’s Conservatives are the only one of the four main political parties to actively support the idea, while the Labour Party said last year that “the people should decide”. The Green Party have not actively supported the idea, either.

Bristol Leader Barbara Janke’s response in full…

10 Responses to ‘Palpably apathetic’ Bristol voters will suffer elected mayor
  1. jayacg
    January 5, 2012 | 4:02 pm

    Wood5y – I think you should stand :). I'll declare my interest ( but I run a really small business too as a day job. Certainly the support we've had has been more from people that don't fit into the "business interest" camp who see this as a chance to directly elect their own leader rather than go with the current system. I agree that there's a chance that an existing politician may get the post BUT this will be sanctioned by the people of Bristol directly. Surely that's a better scenario than the one we currently have?

    Harry – you sound like you should be at the debate being run the RSA, IOD Bristol, Uni of Bristol and Festival of Ideas on the 22nd Feb. You're certainly articulate enough to make the anti-DEM (democratically elected mayor) case and we want a fair debate!

    • wood5y
      January 6, 2012 | 9:16 am

      Thanks for your kind words. :)

      I am ambivalent about the efficacy of an elected mayor. It's another top-down imposition, adding another layer of management to one that already has several layers of ineffective management (whose post-holders are – so my spies inform me – kept in post by their underlings doing their job for them). From my perspective, the council's inability to deal with the city's problems (e.g. filthy streets) would be better served by appointing more frontline staff, rather than another penpusher

  2. Félix
    January 5, 2012 | 12:37 pm

    "There can be no doubt that most members of the public are uninterested"

    And what evidence do you have for this Junket, apart from palping the electorate – urrgghh!

  3. Felix
    January 5, 2012 | 12:30 pm

    "saying a vocal minority could impose their views on a “palpably apathetic” electorate"

    There couldn't be a better description of how Junket Janke seized control of Bristol City Council.

  4. harry
    January 5, 2012 | 8:37 am


    Q. Which individuals can afford to mount a campaign for Mayor when they are not part of the existing political parties or have the profile from which to stand for Mayor ?

    A. Only those representing business interests

    I should have added GWE Business West to the list of groups who could mount a campaign for Mayor. The reason why the business interests of this city are so exited about a mayor is that it makes it easy for them to tie up the poltiics of this city. As if they don't have a strong enough hold already.

    This process is nothing about helping the people of Bristol.

    • wood5y
      January 5, 2012 | 11:34 am

      Besides GWE Business, I'd add the Merchant Venturers to the roll of business interests having a strong hold on the politics of Bristol. Furthermore, the undue influence of their secretive little cabal has been exerted on the city for centuries.

      It's time for a change.

    • Christina
      January 6, 2012 | 7:57 am

      This process IS about helping the people of Bristol, Harry. That is the only thing it's about. What else would it be about???

      And what do you have against business? I thought the whole point was that people are worried for their livelihoods this year. Businesses are employers. They make jobs. Surely you're not against people being able to earn their living?

      I think the more good jobs in Bristol the better. An elected mayor would likely bring money and employment into the city. It's a no-brainer.

  5. Christina
    January 4, 2012 | 5:01 pm

    I don't think it's true that an elected mayor needs to come from the existing politicians and their parties. The whole point is to have someone different who the people of Bristol get a chance to vote for directly for a change. An elected mayor could also bring a lot of money into the city.

  6. harry
    January 4, 2012 | 12:45 pm

    But with only a single politician to buy off with funding, lunches and lobbying, you can be guaranteed that an elected mayor will serve the bnusienss interests of the city very well.

    Any do you think the elected mayor will come from anywhere other than the 3 current political party systems and from within their existing politicians. So, do you want Mayor Cook, Mayor Abraham or Mayor Hammond ? Frankly, I am glad each of them currently has so little power.

  7. wood5y
    January 4, 2012 | 10:43 am

    One reason for the palpable apathy of the Bristol electorate has been the abysmal performance of the city's political class over recent years. They're more concerned with puerile party political point scoring and getting one over on their opponents than doing the right thing for the city: and this is one of the reasons why the idea of an elected mayor is so attractive to many; anything would be better than the present shambles at the Counts Louse.

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