By now, no doubt most Bristol24/7 readers will have heard about the mayor’s call for people to join him – together with trade unions and other organisations – at a planned mass “Rally for Bristol” to end austerity.
As you can imagine, I have a great deal of sympathy for local authorities over the heavy burden that has been placed on them in helping to balance the nation’s finances (we need to remember the precarious position left by the last Labour Government), at a time when adult and children’s social care costs are escalating. However, I doubt that this proposed protest is really the best way to get more money out of the Government.
I do believe that the Core Cities should coordinate their efforts to argue for more money but we can’t ignore the massive public sector debt now approaching £2 trillion. The tough choices made by the coalition and Conservative Governments have dramatically cut the annual deficit (the amount borrowed each year) by two thirds. Despite this, we are still running up debts today and then expecting our children to pay them off tomorrow.
Now, the mayor wants to lead a protest against the very people whom, four days later, he intends to ask for more money. I suspect that, if I were to lead a demo against my bank, they might then feel much less inclined to give me a loan the week after. It simply isn’t logical.
The time for protest, if necessary, should come if the mayor’s approach was rebuffed, certainly not before.
This rather begs the question that if logic isn’t the motivation behind Saturday’s day of anger, then what is? I suspect that this latest mobilisation to paralyse our city centre is more to do with Marvin showing off his far left credentials than to actually bring about change.
The mayor’s day of disruption on September 9 couldn’t have been more ill-timed for other equally important reasons. This event sadly also coincides with the annual Bristol Doors Open Days free festival which seeks to attract visitors into the city to celebrate our architecture, history and culture. I am concerned about the image and message this demonstration will convey to all those tourists inconvenienced or alarmed by this self-proclaimed planned ‘biggest protest of the year’.
In addition, the University of Bristol has already expressed its own concerns about the anti-austerity march adversely affecting its own open day to attract prospective students. I understand they are hoping for more than 16,000 visitors on Saturday to learn more about the degree courses and scholarships on offer there. Major delays and traffic gridlock of the city centre is bound to create a really bad impression and potentially deter interest in studying here.
Whilst political protest has its place, in my opinion, we need a much better reason to bring the city to a halt, stretch police resources, and cost the taxpayer money than the mayor’s self-serving appeal to the left-wing of the Labour Party.
Mark Weston is leader of the Conservative group of councillors in Bristol and a councillor for Henbury and Brentry.