Some Bristol Politics

Those of you who listened to last week’s Women’s Outlook show will remember that we were visited by Tasha from the Avon Coalition Against Big Biofuels. She talked about plans for new biomass power stations at Avonmouth. There was day of action yesterday, and it seems to have got the attention of the city’s Elected Mayor. Here is George Ferguson writing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to add his voice to the campaign. Tasha and George are quite right. While it is perfectly possible for a biomass plant to class as renewable energy, one that relies on importing wood cut from rain forests in South East Asia is another matter entirely. George says in his letter, “Bristol has loudly and very clearly said ‘no’ to these developments, yet the UK Government has chosen to override our local decision-making process.” I’ll be interested to see what sort of response this personal intervention gets, and I’ll try to get Tasha back on the show so we can discuss the issues in more detail.

Talking of mayors, you may remember me waxing lyrical about Bristol Lord Mayors. We have had some good ones during my time in local radio. Two years ago we had Peter Main, the city’s first gay Lord Mayor. Last year the Council appointed Faruk Choudhury who is the city’s first Muslim Lord Mayor. I’ve met both of them as part of the work I have done for Out Stories Bristol and local radio, and they are lovely people.

While George was elected by popular vote, Lord Mayors are appointed by the City Council. The major parties take it in turns to put forward nominees, who are generally accepted unopposed. Peter was put forward by the Liberal Democrats, while Faruk came from the Labour group. It is almost time to appoint a new Lord Mayor, and the turn of the Conservatives to put someone forward. Their choice, Councillor Chris Windows, was known for his opposition to LGBT people. Most notoriously he tried to stop Sir Ian McKellen (yes, Gandalf) from visiting Bristol schools as part of Stonewall’s gay awareness campaign.

Understandably the local LGBT community was not best pleased. A petition was started. I didn’t think it had much chance, because there is a strong tradition that Lord Mayor candidates are unopposed. The fear is that if one party starts trying to interfere with another’s choices then their next choice will probably be opposed regardless of who it is, and the whole thing will descend into petty bickering.

On Friday, out of the blue, Cllr. Windows withdrew his candidacy. As per this BBC report, he blamed an “unpleasant and slanderous attack upon my character” by “a very vocal minority”, and said he was withdrawing to avoid further distress to his wife. It was a classic piece of victim politics, but one I was rather suspicious of because I know a lot of the people involved in the petition, and they are sweet and lovely folks.

Yesterday Daryn Carter, the Director of Bristol Pride, got his chance to put his side of the story in the local paper. While you can argue over whether slanderous things have been said forever, the key point in the story for me was this:

It has also emerged today that Bristol’s Labour councillors yesterday withdrew support for Mr Windows’ nomination.

Labour Chief Whip, Cllr Chris Jackson said: “We had initially believed that Cllr. Windows had genuinely learned after his offensive comments in the Council Chamber, but regrettably this does not seem to have been the case.”

There’s a lot more from the Labour councillors in the paper. So it seems that while Cllr. Windows and his family may indeed have been distressed by the campaign, he didn’t actually withdraw until he had already lost the support of a significant part of the City Council.

It so happens that we have a bunch of city councillors on Women’s Outlook this coming Wednesday. I may ask them a question or two.