We lost. It happens. It hurts. As someone with a lot of campaign experience it’s hardest to see the first timers, the people who spent weeks and months pouring their energy into the campaign and how hard losing is for them. It was tough to see Marvin’s family who will have sacrificed his presence in their lives so that he could be a presence in ours and change our city. When you are knocked down there’s only one thing left to do: start again.
I think the hardest thing was watching the Mayor elect’s speech and Marvin’s concession. I won’t compare and contrast the speeches but what I will say is this: We aren’t all equal. Some hope we are but aren’t. We are equal in human dignity and nothing more. We don’t have the same opportunities. We don’t have the same life chances. We don’t have comparable living standards. We don’t have the same power. We don’t have the same freedom. We don’t have the same say in our day to day lives or those of our kids.
It’s the belief of some classical liberals that we are all equal with little or no effort that meant that we have a Labour Party in the first place. As Nye Bevan said
“To us the doctrine of laissez faire conveys no inspiration because the hope of individual emancipation would be crushed by the weight of accomplished power.”
Accomplished power. I’ve never seen it swing into action quite so effectively. Accomplished power for whom the Council is a barrier to their companies freedom to make money. To whom regulation is a dirty word. For whom equality assessments are needless bureaucracy. They feel that way not out of malice but out of complete ignorance. Accomplished power whose main interaction with the Council is getting their bins collected and paying their Council tax. Who would like the Council to spend more money on FUN.
We have a Labour Party because there are people who see the other side. That there are those who need local government to free them or at least make them freer. Who need their meals on wheels. Who need protection from anti social behaviour. Who worry about their care home’s future. Who want their kids to have a place at a local primary school. Who want dignity at work. Who want to care for others based on need not ability to pay.
So what is next? The Bristol Labour Party will be taking 2-3 months to review the campaign. What we did and what we should do differently. We are bringing in colleagues from outside the city to help in this process so that an honest rational assessment trumps any egoes. The most essential thing for the Labour Party is to not turn in on itself. We must look at how we improve but not become introspective or self indulgent or fingerpointing in this process.
We must remain strong, united and rooted in our communities. Whilst our core vote did not turn out the way we had hoped it is important to remember the good will Marvin and the Labour party’s engagement has brought out in the inner city. As I campaigned around Lawrence Hill and Easton. People would cycle passed chanting Marvin’s name. Stapleton Road was awash with red posters. Men and women voted for the first time because we engaged with them. We must continue to engage. If we turn inwards we fail.
The Labour Group of Cllrs will be meeting on Monday to discuss engagement in the Council and the Bristol Labour Party will meet on Wednesday. We will decide together how we engage with our new Mayor.
George Ferguson won and he should be congratulated on his victory. For my part I think that the Mayor Elect ran an unashamedly anti-Labour campaign. Many of those who voted heard that message and voted for it. The Tory and Lib Dem vote collapsed to him where as our vote did not. We should respect the Mayor’s campaign victory and the will of the voters both Mr. Ferguson’s and ours. We should not sit in his cabinet but remain a constructive opposition.
Constructive opposition. This is something a democracy needs. Both elements are just as important. We must not unnecessarily oppose for the sake of opposition. If the Mayor elect has a Damascene conversion on living wage, childcare, building affordable homes, we should welcome it and work with him on making it a reality. We must work together on a whole number of issues for the good of Bristol.
We must also be an opposition. We must scrutinise. We must invite a rethink and if this engagement fails then we must oppose. Why? The answer is simple. The Labour Party exists to protect the majority of citizens from the crushing weight of accomplished power.
Lastly I want to thank Marvin Rees. Every Labour Party member & Trade Unionist who campaigned for him. Every volunteer from outside the Party who believed in him and us. Every organiser who worked passed midnight and every member of our families who puts up with our activism and takes up the slack when we are absent from home. Marvin Rees is an exceptional man. You’ll read much about a “vote against party power” in the next week. Yet we all know that it’s only through a political party through OUR Labour family that a black man from a single parent family in inner city Bristol. A man with two kids, a wife and a mortgage. A man with real drive and aspiration could ever afford to run for Bristol Mayor. I am proud of him and I am proud of the Labour Party and movement