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  • Writer's pictureTorin Menzies

"The mayoral system has been a disaster for Bristol - it’s time to bring back democracy."

Nine and a half years ago, 41 thousand Bristolians voted to switch to the mayoral system from the leader and cabinet model.

This low turnout referendum saw Bristol become one of the few cities to vote for having a directly elected mayor.

These days, Bristol is a city where no one party currently dominates local politics - after back and forth Labour and Liberal Democrat executives, some with majorities and some without, the Council is now a rainbow of different parties. Yet that is not reflected in the executive, where the power in our city lies with not just one party, but just one person.

Marvin Rees won 36 percent of the first preference vote in the race for mayor, slightly higher than Labour’s share of votes cast for councillors, at 31 percent. 24 Labour candidates were elected to the Council of 70 after May’s elections, down 13 seats from their previous majority victory of 37.

These are all far from landslides - nearly seven out of every ten voters backed other parties or independents to represent them on the Council, and just under two thirds didn't cast their first preference for Mayor as Marvin Rees and Labour. In fact, the Greens won as many seats as Labour on the Council, as well as narrowly winning the popular vote.

Yet they continue to rule alone, with the Mayor and all six of his cabinet members being from the Labour Party. The Mayor controls all executive power in the city, with councillors relegated to scrutiny, planning, and licensing powers, as well as approving the Mayor’s budget (which they cannot propose amendments to).

The councillors directly representing our communities have no power to tackle the issues facing our city, such as transport, air pollution, or housing. They have next to no power to determine the future of our city or improve the public services that we rely on.

Some have argued that without a mayor we as a city would not be properly advocated for on national and international stages. Whilst as one of Britain’s core cities it is important we make ourselves heard, we do not need a city mayor to fill that role. The Mayor of the West of England, often known as the ‘Metro Mayor’ represents not just the City of Bristol but also the outer suburbs and nearby towns in South Gloucestershire and North East Somerset, as well as the closely linked city of Bath.

Outside of Greater London, Bristol and Liverpool are the only places to be covered by two different mayors. Andy Street of West Midlands (Birmingham) and Andy Burnham of Greater Manchester are clear regional figureheads standing up for their cities, whilst all four of the mayors covering Bristol and Liverpool are barely known outside of their areas.

However, it could all be different - prior to 2000, our city was run by several cross-party committees wielding executive power, with membership proportional to that of the Full Council.

Out would be the days of one all-powerful person holding virtually all the power, and in would be the collaborative cross-party democracy our city desperately needs to truly flourish.

The legislation that allowed Bristol to establish the position of mayor also included the right for councillors (or the public via a petition) to force a referendum to switch to either the leader and cabinet or committee systems.

The 7th December saw this happen - with the Full Council voting for a referendum between the mayoral and committee system to take place on 5th May 2022.

We as Bristolians need to retake control of our city. That means giving the councillors we elect the power to decide on our behalf how our Council is run.

The mayoral system has been a disaster for Bristol - it’s time to bring back democracy.

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