By Louise Hingley, Senior Account Executive
Today more than 20 million people in England will go to the polls to choose metro mayors across eight city-regions. One of the most hotly contested metro mayor races is taking place in the West of England, where residents in Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire are voting for the next leader of the West of England Combined Authority.
Indeed, you may have seen Sir Keir Starmer getting kicked out of a pub by an angry anti-lockdown landlord and the Prime Minister unable to name the incumbent conservative mayor, Tim Bowles, during campaign visits last month. So, who are those vying to be the next mayor of the West of England?
(Mayoral and Police & Crime Commissioner elections use the Supplementary Vote System where you vote for a first and second preference. If a candidate receives more than 50 per cent of first preference votes, then they are elected. If no candidate reaches the 50 per cent threshold, the two candidates with the highest number of votes remain and the other candidates are eliminated. The second preference of the eliminated candidates are counted. Any made for the two remaining candidates are transferred. The candidate with the most votes at the end of this process is elected.)
Former MP for the now defunct constituency of Wansdyke and Environment Minister, Dan Norris is calling himself a ‘jobs first mayor’, pledging to create a £20 million Green Recovery Fund along with 23,000 new green jobs. However, he has criticised the positive stance Labour has taken, until very recently, to Bristol Airport’s expansion plans. In April, he said: “we have to look to create jobs in green industries rather than airports.”
Norris’ campaign has been endorsed by John Savage, the Independent candidate who won 15% of first-preference votes in 2017. There are no Independent candidates standing in this election and four years ago, the Conservatives beat Labour by only 3.2%, so Labour are hoping that Savage’s endorsement equates to Labour votes from those who would have previously voted Independent and in turn, Labour victory. Labour is also trying to gain as many second-preference votes from Green & Lib Dem voters with their ‘help stop the Tories’ message. Indeed, this may be Labour’s best chance at picking up an additional mayoralty in England.
Communications specialist and charity campaigner, Samuel Williams, was originally set to contest the 2020 Bristol mayoral election. However, following its postponement, he became the Conservative candidate for West of England Mayor after Tim Bowles announced his retirement. He lists his key priorities as green jobs, a transportation system fit for the future and building more homes. He wants to deliver the Great Western Freeport and has pledged to deliver six new train stations to ensure that towns, villages, and rural areas are supported with better transport services. He is not in principle against the expansion of Bristol airport, claiming that profits from the expansion could be used to deliver ‘the first fully sustainable carbon neutral airport.’
On housing, his objectives include increasing the number of affordable homes in the region, putting a stop to land banking, and encouraging developers to adopt modern methods of construction (MMC). He said that his first economic decision if elected would be to smooth the process for North Somerset, South Somerset, and Gloucestershire to join the West of England Combined Authority to “boost the collective power”. Having set up his own business, Williams feels that he has the business acumen and networks in Westminster to be successful as mayor, but it remains to be seen whether he is voters’ choice.
Having finished third in the inaugural West of England mayoral election in 2017 with 20.2% of the vote, Stephen Williams is the only candidate to be standing again. The former MP for Bristol West wants to create a West of England Centre of Excellence for Green Technology to develop new products and services for a carbon neutral regional economy by 2030 and make the region the national leader in green jobs. He has also pledged to create a West of England Investment Fund with an initial value of £100 million from the British Business Bank, to invest in local innovative businesses and put the region on par with the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.
Also, at the forefront of his plans is the creation of a West of England Homes Social Enterprise to build new climate friendly homes for sale and private rental, with the surplus to be invested in homes for social rent. He opposes the expansion of Bristol Airport, as he did in 2006, when the proposal first came about when he was an MP. Throughout the campaign, he has highlighted his political experience and familiarity with the inner workings of government, stating that the role of mayor was “not for someone learning on the job”. The Lib Dems feel they are in a relatively strong position as voters go to the polls; Stephen Williams has run a strong campaign for the second time and the Lib Dems have the most local councillors in total across the three authorities (although that is mainly because they have so many councillors in Bath & North East Somerset).
Entrepreneur, Jerome Thomas, became Clifton’s first Green councillor in 2015 and stepped down as Deputy Leader of the Green Party on Bristol City Council to campaign to be the West of England Mayor. Thomas wants a Green New Deal for the West of England based around clean transport; affordable, warm homes and secure jobs in growth industries, in a way that protects and improves the local natural environment. On transport, he has pledged to “reject a future of airport expansion and road building”, telling a recent hustings that he would halt construction of new roads within his remit, and favour reallocating the budget to pay for cycling infrastructure. Meanwhile, he says he will use the mayor’s power to compulsorily purchase land to build new homes.
He is the only candidate to have put forward a manifesto for women, ‘the womanifesto’, following a prompt by Bristol Women’s Commission for candidates to include women in their policy statements. Thomas has said that voters can send a strong message about the green future they want by electing him and he may well be able to improve on the 13.8% of the vote that the Greens won in 2017 with no Independent candidate standing.