Mayor Election 2016 / Interviews

Meet the mayor candidate: Paul Turner

By louis emanuel, Friday Apr 1, 2016

Paul Turner’s mum’s council flat, where Paul lives and works from his bedroom, looks familiar. The clue is in the flower pots outside on the walkway – a splash of colour on the post-war Jacob’s Wells Road tower block, covered in scaffolding on my visit.

And then it clicks as he opens the door. This flat was on the front page of the Bristol Post where mum Audrey was posed with her flower pots complaining about some council nannying policy to ban them in council blocks as they could be fire hazards.

A few months after that front page (after the story hit the national papers too), the policy was revoked. A victory for the little guy (or old lady, in this case); a poster case for the health-and-safety-gone-mad society we live in.

“It’s very typical of local authorities in general to think they know best what people want and need,” Paul tells me as we linger over the budding daffodils.

“But the more you go round and start speaking to people the more you realise there’s a massive gap between the council and their view on things, and, well, reality.”

Paul’s mantra as Ukip’s mayoral candidate is listening. He’s the “common sense” candidate, he says, with sensible “practical solutions”, not lofty policy and unrealistic promises.

A mini tour of Audrey’s humble flat reveals it to be very neat and tidy, decorated with the odd bit of Aardman memorabilia on the walls and some fetching royal wedding mugs.

As Audrey’s carer, Paul, 53, spends a lot of his time with his 84-year-old mother. But she is out on the day we visit, leaving the living room free for a chat.

Paul was born in Nottingham, but moved to Hartcliffe at the age of nine after his father, who grew up in the area, left the army.

He went to Hartcliffe Comprehensive (“where I did all my growing up”), one of the biggest schools in the country at the time, and left school at 17 to live and work around Bristol.

He’s been a bartender, he’s worked in Gardiner Haskins and now, when he’s not caring for his mother, he runs his own telecommunications consultancy from his room above us.

He is calm and measured and very un-Ukip. “Some people are more brash and loud. That’s not my character,” he says. “People are often surprised after hearing me talk when I tell them I’m Ukip.”

He believes in the core Ukip values, but seems slightly more reasonable about them. He’s uncontroversial and there don’t appear to be skeletons in the closet – just some jackets and a new flower bed (a Mother’s Day present) under the stairs.

He could be a Tory (sorry, Charles), the way he speaks about policy and the kinds of policy he focuses on – 20mph zones, RPZs, housing.

But there is a flicker of passion and a clue to his party politics when we talk about the housing crisis and one of its many catalysts: migration.

Paul Turner says he joined Ukip after attending a party meeting including members of all colours and creeds

“Migration doesn’t help,” he says. “I should say open door migration doesn’t help. The problem is, what we have is an open door.

“You cannot gauge or manage the amount of people coming into the country. If you’ve got control of your borders you can plan for that with your housing.”

I suggest leaving the EU would not make a blind bit of difference to illegal migration.

“It’s a lot easier once you’ve entered by a less well-governed country. Much easier to apply for and get. What we would be doing [if we left the EU] is looking to stop the immigrants coming here by other means. There are large number of illegal immigrants in Calais – very few refugees.

“Very few people are asking what the French are doing about it.”

I point out that the response to the crisis from Bristol has been one of the most impassioned across the country, with weekly aid convoys being set up within months.

“There’s nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t want to stop people from helping. It’s great to help and do what you can.

“There’s no doubt that the people there need help. But you have to also ask the question of whether they should be there in the first place.”

So, presumably – unlike George Ferguson – Paul would not open his spare bedroom, if he had one, to a refugee?

“If I had a spare room, I would be more inclined to open it up to one of the homeless people who would be sleeping on the street tonight.”

He adds: “If there are people across Bristol who wish to open their doors up to genuine refugees from Syria or other places then I personally don’t have a problem with that as long as they fully understand what they are letting themselves in for.

“If you look at the last time we took large numbers of refugees into this country, large numbers of them couldn’t return home. The problems in Syria aren’t going to be over by Christmas. Taking a Syrian refugee you do need to understand this is not going to be for a month or two.

“It does create pressures on education system, our NHS, our housing. It would bring pressures onto those services and anyone who denies that is delusional. How we deal with that is a different question.”

And as for the mayor’s promise? “Why didn’t he open his home five years ago? We’ve had homeless people in Bristol for decades. Has he opened his room up? Has he found some morals somewhere quite recently? I couldn’t say. Some might say he is trying to gain political advantage. That might well be the case.”

Returning to housing in general, Paul has a practical policy to help deal with the crisis. He wants to press ahead with the long-overdue recycling centre in south Bristol and turn recycled refuse into building blocks to build homes.

“It’s very easy to turn around and pluck a number out of thin air for new homes we need. But we need to be looking at it in a realistic manner. Building houses is not the cheapest thing to do. Budgets are being restricted.

“This idea makes it a lot more cost-effective and a lot cheaper to build the houses in the first place.”

Paul Turner slams the “bureaucracy gone mad” decision by the council to order his mum to remove her plants from her balcony

We brush on some of Paul’s other focuses for the election. But before that, he tells me why he joined Ukip.

“I happened to be talking to someone I knew from the business point of view. He turned round one day and said why don’t you come along to a meeting and meet some of the guys.

“I went along to one of the meetings and I met a very wide range of individuals – there were some immigrants there, a guy from the gay community and some black people as well as, as I say, immigrants – and they’re all sort of talking away and there was no animosity or dislike towards anybody.

“I was quite impressed by the diversity of people and the membership across the city and what was being said so I thought I want to get involved.”

I suggest he’s not so far from the Conservative Party with his policies. “One way that Ukip might differ to other parties is by bringing practical and real solutions,” he reaffirms.

“We want to bring an element of common sense. Yes, it would be lovely to be living in Utopia, but we don’t, we live in Bristol…”

It’s close, I suggest.

He ignores the joke. “…and it has its problems. We have to be very honest about what they are. Not shy away from them and hide them from less meaningful issues.”

What does he mean by that? I ask, getting ready for some controversial Ukip-style, headline-grabbing quotes.

But he goes back to 20mph zones and how we don’t listen enough to the evidence before putting policy in place.

We head through the hallway and back out onto the walkway and hover around the flower pots again while some photographs are taken in the same spot where his mum was snapped a few years ago with her plants.

“She’s very proud. Very proud,” Paul says when I ask what his mum thinks about him standing for Ukip.

“I took her to the convention. She thoroughly enjoyed it. And I was called up on stage. I just wish they had warned me first.”

We look down at the flower pots. “Bureaucracy gone mad,” he says. “That’s what happens when the council fails to ask what is it that you actually need in your city. There just doesn’t seem to be enough listening. I want to change that.”

Read more: Interviews, videos and opinion pieces with all the candidates

 

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/

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