The City and Metro Mayoralties – A Bristol Tale

By Drew Aspinwall, Account Director

This May’s elections will be unlike any we have had before. Candidates won’t be door knocking, the uptake of postal votes will likely soar, and voters will be viewing their selection through the lens of over a year of lockdown measures and the future implications of its policies.

In the West of England, we have a potentially unique situation where both the Bristol City Mayor, and the Mayor of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) elections are taking place on the same day.

With local council elections due in 2020 postponed due to COVID-19, the City Mayor’s term along with Bristol City Council elected members and the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner was extended by a year, and following terms shortened by a year. Bringing these elections in line with elections for West of England Mayor already scheduled for 2021.

Having these elections on the same day is both an opportunity and a risk to both engagement and participation. With a third of Bristol’s 70 councillors up for election, two mayors and a Police and Crime Commissioner to vote for, the amount of information voters will be expected to wade though is likely be extensive, impacting both decision-making and turnout.

WECA covers Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset but there has also been calls to postpone the Metro Mayor election to allow North Somerset to join WECA (an issue which could be explored in an article of its own).

In this election there is though, a valuable opportunity for both the Metro Mayor and the City Mayor candidates to fill in some of the gaps that exist in the public’s awareness as to what differentiates the two roles outside that of just geography. 

I say this as generally I find that those professionally involved (in areas such as public policy, transport, planning, housing and economic development) have a reasonable understanding as to their respective remits but ask anyone who outside of that group who is not a keen political follower and the conversation is likely to raise more questions than answers.

Blurring the issue as to role remits will the drive for consensus around policy. The economy and post-COVID-19 recovery will likely dominate candidate literature, with public transport, housing, environment, equality and inclusion issues all competing for airtime.

Who is standing so far?

Where the perception and perhaps the pollsters may see the outcome of the London, Manchester and Liverpool mayoral election as a straight run thing, the outcome of the two Bristol contests is less clear cut.

Labour’s Marvin Rees was elected as the second City Mayor in 2016 taking over from George Ferguson (and his signature red trousers), who Marvin also stood against and lost to in the first Bristol mayoral election in 2012.

Marvin has confirmed he will be standing for a second term and so far, only Sandy Hore-Ruthven has announced he will be standing for the Green Party. Mary Page (Liberal Democrat) put her hat in the ring last year then withdrew it due to personal circumstances. Samuel Williams (Conservative) having initially said he would run for City Mayor, then announced he will be running for Metro Mayor instead. In 2016 there were 13 candidates, so there are likely plenty more announcements to come.

In 2017, six candidates ran for the 2017 WECA mayoralty. However, four years later the contest is far from a foregone conclusion. The Conservative incumbent Metro Mayor, Tim Bowles, announced in December 2020 that he is retiring form frontline politics and will not be seeking re-election.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have all announced candidates with strong local connections. Dan Norris, the former Member of Parliament for Wansdyke (1997-2010) will be making a return for Labour, whilst Stephen Williams, the former Member of Parliament for Bristol West (2005-10), takes up the challenge for the Liberal Democrats. As a former Bristol City Councillor for Clifton Ward (2015-21) and Deputy Group Leader for the Green Party, Jerome Thomas will be hoping his recent local presence help will see him retuned as the first Green Metro Mayor.

The nomination process for both Metro Mayor and City Mayor opens on 23 March until the 8 April 2021.