A colourful, liberal and metropolitan city, but also a city of great poverty south of the River Avon. Bristol is the type of city that desperately needs someone with a passion for equality, opportunity and integrity at its helm, and today it elected Marvin Rees – a man of just that.
Bristol is one area in Britain where Jeremy Corbyn is popular with the general population, not only Labour members. The adopted city of his great friend Tony Benn, the centre of Bristol is a student city that oozes Corbynite fervour, and necessitates the focus on inequality that Jeremy brings.
Visiting on more than one occasion Corbyn has been a boost for candidate Marvin Rees’ campaign. However, it is Rees himself who is the greatest asset. A Bristolian from a humble upbringing, Rees’ story is one of his greatest selling points. He was born on a white working class estate, faced racist abuse and was raised singularly by his mother who spent time in a refuge. Rees climbed his way up the social ladder, attending university and until recently worked as a public health manager before resigning to run as Labour’s candidate.
Many were shocked in 2012 when Rees was defeated by independent ‘Bristol First’ candidate George Ferguson. Ferguson, a wealthy architect, captured much of the liberal and green vote from affluent areas north of the Avon, such as Clifton and Redland.
Yet his shortcomings in office seem to have proven him incapable of widening his appeal. Very little has been done to tackle inequities in Bristol and issues in transport system that are highly contentious in the city. Potentially most damagingly Ferguson has been seen as an authoritative Mayor, imposing policies such as residential parking without the consultation of highly opposed residents and business owners.
Much has been done to boost the profile of the city. Bristol was the EU Green Capital in 2015 and has a thriving and vibrant city centre. Yet, amongst the perceptions of increasing affluence, Bristol’s centre sees a high number of individuals without homes, a number that continues to staggeringly increase – almost 90% in the last three years. Away from the city centre many Bristolians feel neglected. South of the River Avon poverty is high, and for many people here opportunities feel few and far between. Bristol has the highest child poverty figures in the South West and housing costs are continually unaffordable.
A report presented to Bristol’s City Hall concluded that Bristol was a “city of inequalities with persistent health and wellbeing gaps between different parts … Despite the prosperity within the city, there are substantial problems of deprivation in parts of Bristol … The neighbourhoods that do not share the city’s prosperity often have insufficient good housing, transport and access to employment opportunities.”
Rees provides an inspiring vision in this, where Ferguson appears absent. Rees rarely misses an opportunity to talk about economic and social exclusion. To posit his vision a Bristol in which all its residents feel engaged and have the opportunity to flourish.
‘This is a ferociously prosperous city that is increasingly unaffordable, and where the gap between rich and poor is widening. That has to be the focus. This is not just a moral crisis, it’s a strategic crisis. All over the world people are saying we cannot build coherent society if we don’t tackle inequality.’
With a real understanding for the problems facing Bristol, a passion for equality, and a strong inclusive vision to guide him, Rees is the man Bristol needed – and thankfully the one they got.