After the narrow referendum result, Bristol was committed to having a city mayor. For those who are not a fan of the post, the good news is that, thanks to a petition, a debate in Council and a lobby of parliament, Bristol will have the opportunity in the future to ditch the post.
The first mayor, George Ferguson, came in with no experience of how a Council runs in the 21st century but was determined to change everything. There was lots of publicity and the public gave their verdict: a massive thumbs down.
The financial verdict was even more damning, with a massive gap between what was promised to be happening to the Council finances, and what the position actually was. His tenure was characterised by massive disputes and a complete rejection of advice from any number of experienced councillors and administrators.
So, when the Bristol public turned to the ‘anybody-but-George’ candidate, they put aside the memories of the terrible mess that Bristol Labour had made previously. When Mayor Ferguson played the ‘it’s me or Labour’ card, which had always worked before, he got his answer.
So, Bristol got its second elected mayor who, again, had never run a body like the council, or even been a councillor. The results have been so disastrous so quickly that they have shocked even opposition councillors.
The cuts, many of which are due to the Mayor’s choices, rather than the demands of central government, have been savage, and the public has yet to see the full affects. There is in-fighting within the ruling party and chaos in management. Staff morale is through the floor and many basic systems are just not working.
In three years’ time, the public will again be desperate for change. How much of the chaos is down to the mayoral system? Two very different mayors, two disasters.
So, on May 4 we are electing a metro mayor to run the combined authority of Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire. This authority will have power on transport, planning and skills training, with an annual budget mainly coming from central government.
According to the bookies, and they are not normally far out with their assessments, the joint favourites at the short odds of 11/10 are a Tory from rural South Gloucestershire – who has never been in charge of any council department or budget, let alone had any experience of how cities like Bristol and Bath run, but is well liked in the Tory party – and Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams – an MP for 10 years, previous councillor and government Minister.
Those who have watched debates or hustings have been struck by the difference between them in terms of knowledge and approach.
Given the disasters in Bristol with new faces, and similar experiences elsewhere, you would think the result would be clear. It is, though, far from certain, as the majority of the electorate are poorly informed before using their vote. Many vote blindly for a party label.
The third favourite at 8/1 is the Labour candidate, who brings with her a record as a parish councillor in rural Radstock and who may have resigned due to claimed unpleasant treatment from local Tories and UKIP. So much for fighting for the West in the corridors of power. She is a devotee of Jeremy Corbyn, and that, taken together with many off-the-wall utterances, has meant many Labour activists are sitting out this election and a lot are voting Lib Dem.
Many will not vote, preferring to look at the pantomime that is the general election, but not voting will not make the position go away. Instead, not voting might lead to another inexperienced time-server being handed a huge amount of power and a lot of our money, and that, to me, is a very worrying thought.
Gary Hopkins is a Liberal Democrat Councillor for the ward of Knowle.
Read more: Metro mayor election day