“The council is there to serve the people, not the other way round,” says the softly spoken Kay Barnard, the Lib Dem’s candidate for Bristol mayor.
“If the people don’t want something they shouldn’t have it forced upon them,” she adds firmly. “You’re getting me quite angry now,” she says before bursting into laughter.
We’re sitting with a tin of Liquorice Allsorts between us at Barnard’s dining table in Cotham talking about residents parking zones (RPZs) when her cool and calm exterior quietly cracks for the first time.
To be fair, it’s been building since she began talking about the lack of women in the mayoral race (just two of 11 at the time of interview) and the rudeness of the male-dominated politics in Bristol.
But back to RPZs, the subject which sent her into a minor rage. As a policy the Lib Dems introduced when they controlled the council, Barnard agrees in principle. But she disagrees with the way George Ferguson has carried it through with a certain zeal and a consultation that she argues wasn’t up to scratch.
“It’s got to be something that suits each local area,” she says. “It has to suit the people who live there who actually want it. The Lib Dems rolled them out because there was support,” she adds, her temper back to normal.
“You might think I’m soft,” she says later, before explaining her background on NHS panels, sitting on the University of Bristol’s board of trustees and speaking publicly though her career as a scientist. “But I can chair a meeting.”
Born and raised in Cotham, Barnard, now 67, grew up with two sisters in a single parent household run by her mum, “a beautiful, fantastic woman”.
She went to Colston Primary School before Colston’s Girls’ School, then a non-fee-paying grammar school. After studying biochemistry, she worked in the US as a scientist, before moving back to the UK to farm her husband’s family farm in Somerset (now run by her son).
She now runs two companies from Bristol with her husband Jim, dealing with environmental management and international development (the latter of which her daughter works for in Africa).
She has been a Liberal Democrat since the party was formed in 1988 and has served as a councillor in Somerset and stood for parliament in Bristol South in 2005, finishing in second at a time when the party were at their zenith.
But it’s all changed since then and when I greet her at her home I ask where the campaign office is.
“Erm, in the office in there,” she laughs, pointing to the box room next to the front door. It’s a departure from the last mayoral campaign, I suggest.
“Well, with the loss of the MP there was the loss of a lot of the back-up facilities. There’s still a print place which we have. But there was a whole team last time, yes.”
The resources now are feet on the ground, provided by a doubling in new members after the disastrous General Election last year.
“We have a huge number of volunteers, yes, a massive number of volunteers. But they all work from their own locations, obviously. I wouldn’t like to think how many there are, but there are a lot of people,” Barnard insists.
“To a certain extent, the resentment has gone now,” she adds about the feeling she’s getting on the doorstep.
She’s quick to dismiss a prediction that she is unlikely to finish in the top four. “You never know what’s going to happen. You absolutely never know.”
So what made her stand for mayor?
“Anyone who lives in Bristol gets quite frustrated for the city. I just got rather annoyed really about the traffic and the difficulties with finding a home.
“You know, I’m a bus user, and I get really annoyed when the buses don’t turn up.”
I say I can’t imagine her getting really annoyed.
“I’m shy, put it like that,” she admits. “I’m not a natural… but I’m not bad at public speaking – you have to do that in science.
“But I’m not one of these people with an enormous ego who does it because they’re great. I do it because I want to get things done and that’s my driving force and I have a history of that.”
That history comes through her professional life and voluntary work as well as her time on what was then called the university Council and working to change the NHS from the inside – triggered by her mother’s death at Southmead Hospital.
She says the top of her list, however, if she was mayor would be transport, promising to bring new powers to Bristol to reduce bus fares and increase services.
But she also has big ambitions to change the culture of politics in Bristol away from the male-dominated situation we have now.
“Bristol has a bad reputation for testosterone-fuelled politics and impoliteness which is not to anyone’s benefit,” she says.
She says the lack of women is a “sad indictment” of the political system we have in the UK, and longs for something more like they have in Europe.
“Over there they also don’t have quite the same number of the smug elite who have all gone to private schools and have come from wealthy families who don’t represent ordinary people,” she adds.
“Here, the predominance of older men in suits is quite striking.”
One of those men she is taking aim at is Ferguson, who, I have to remind her, called protesters at a Green Capital event “lunatics, mainly Liberal Democrats”.
“Did he? Oh, that’s very nice of him,” she laughs.
“It’s rude and rudeness should not have a place. It’s one of the reasons politics has become very unpopular with the public. The general public don’t like it.”
Her overall view of the incumbent mayor is that he has done a poor job, despite being a former Lib Dem himself.
“He used to be a Liberal Democrat. He may well still call himself a liberal, but he is most certainly not a democrat,” Barnard quips.
“The way he runs the council, the fact that he has all the power himself. He does not delegate any of the powers at all.”
Barnard says she would devolve power to her cross-party cabinet members. “At the moment power is only in one pair of hands. If you have a cabinet who work together you can rely on them to come to sensible decisions themselves,” she says.
Ferguson’s name crops up again as we take a walk through the shared gardens outside her flat. We’re talking about her experience fighting an election in Bristol South and whether she and the Lib Dems have got any chance in the traditional working-class Labour areas of the city.
“We are trying,” she says. “I’m not a posh person,” she adds. “I didn’t go to Marlborough or wherever Mr Ferguson went to school (Wellington College).”
What’s wrong with England’s traditional public schools?
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” she says. “But that’s certainly not the experience of my background, coming from a single-parent family where we didn’t have enough money.
“My mother sometimes had to choose between buying a bar of soap or a tube of toothpaste,” she says.
“We were supported by her wider family. We used to get boxes of clothes at Christmas as Christmas presents…” She breaks off and holds her hand to her eyes. “Sorry, it’s going to make me cry when I think about it.” She turns away with a nervous laugh.
“It was tough, really tough. We didn’t have holidays.” She stops again. “Now it is starting to make me cry.”
She musters the strength to continue: “My mum was absolutely fantastic. She held us together. She paid off debts that she was landed with and she was an unbelievable and amazing woman.
“We had to chip in with housework, trips to the launderette, buying food and cooking. She was proud of the things I did.”
As we walk back round to her flat we bump into a neighbour, Barbara. I remind her she is living next door to the future mayor.
“She always has an answer,” Barbara says, laughing. “I’m really proud of her,” she adds, before going inside.
We end by talking quickly about the workload of the campaign, her businesses and all the volunteering on the side. There are clearly no signs of slowing down.
“No, absolutely not,” Barnard says, her temper possibly flaring again. “Life is too interesting. I’m not too different in age from Hillary Clinton,” she reminds me. “And she’s standing for president of the US.”
Bristol24/7 is hosting a mayoral hustings featuring all candidates at The Lantern at 7pm on Thursday, April 28. Entrance is first come first served. For more information, visit www.colstonhall.org/shows/mayoral-hustings/