Insiders are hailing the West of England metro mayor campaign as one of the most exciting political events for a long time – but word is yet to get out.
Veteran politician and Liberal Democrat candidate Stephen Williams gamely put his case to a spattering of residents and party members at his first public roadshow in St Bartholemew’s Hall, Bishopston, with fighting talk on affordable housing, transport and economic prosperity.
Battle lines were drawn against his Conservative opponent as he slammed the Government’s ‘hard Brexit’ and argued he is the one with the experience and drive to secure what is arguably the most powerful position in the region.
A former Avon county councillor, Bristol councillor and MP for 10 years before suffering a crushing defeat in the 2015 General Election, Williams made light of his party’s dramatic downfall and said he believes a lot of the hostility has evaporated in the wake of Brexit.
Williams said: “It’s a substantial job with a huge remit. I have gone through good and bad times as a politician and had my fair share of triumphs and some disasters but I hope people will look at the attributes of candidates.”
He called for more investment in the area and said Bristol and Bath are thriving cities that should receive a fairer share of the money currently being distributed to the ‘powerhouses’ of the north and midlands.
His promise to tackle the “social disaster” created by the lack of affordable housing met with approval from the room.
But there was some confusion from the public over the remit of the newly created role which will oversee Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bristol.
The elected West of England mayor will have a £120m pot of money from central Government to spend over a four-year period and Williams said this presents an opportunity to make a real difference in the region.
He hinted at plans to focus on creating more purpose built rental space for social enterprise.
Williams also argued the region could be more prosperous if it did not have such a “hopeless transport system” and said: “it is hard to think of any city that has a worse bus and rail system than we do.”
With a dig at his Tory opponent, he said: “Do we want a guy from Winterbourne who is going to have to defend Theresa May’s Brexit, or do we want to make a stand? It’s a stark political choice.”
Former councillor and Bristol Mayor candidate for the Lib Dems Jon Rogers organised the roadshow in a bid to get the public involved before they have to go to the polls and select a metro mayor on May 4.
He said:” It’s one of the most powerful political positions – on par with the London Mayor. The government is giving huge powers to the area.
“This is one of the most exciting things to happen for a very long time.”
Williams reiterated his determination to win the election – and indeed he is Ladbroke’s favourite – but as 2016 proved, anything can happen in politics.
Competing for the Conservatives will be South Glos councillor Tim Bowles; for the Greens, Darren Hall, who came second in the Bristol West parliamentary election in 2015 ahead of Williams; and for Labour, parish councillor and NHS manager Lesley Mansell.