I could not be happier for my old city of Bristol that they have elected Marvin Rees as mayor. I believe that Mr Rees is the ideal man to take the city forward for a number of reasons. He has come from a humble background, firstly in Lawrence Weston and then in Easton. He has worked his way, not bought his way, to become, in electoral terms, the most powerful man in Bristol. It’s a great story for a number of reasons.
Firstly, Marvin recognises both that the city is booming in many areas, there are major pockets of deprivation where prosperity is passing by. There remain areas where people find it impossible to get good jobs, where transport is inadequate and where standards of housing are simply unacceptable for the modern age.
The boy from Long Cross has made a good career for himself in a number of areas including the media and health and he quit the latter in order to concentrate on running for mayor. I firmly believe that Marvin has a vision to make Bristol a a better more inclusive place unlike his predecessor George Ferguson who I always thought was all about himself and his carefully cultivated red trousered fool image. (In fairness, I do think Ferguson did raise Bristol’s profile and performed some good work for the city, but I am not sorry he has gone.)
I appreciate that I have not been specific about Marvin Rees and his policies because, quite frankly, what he stands for is all over the net, but I want to refer to a specific issue about the man himself: his colour. And I do so in the most positive way.
Our new mayor is of mixed race, as they say. To you and I, this is of zero importance. Someone’s colour is just that, colour, and everything else about someone with colour is the same as someone without colour. So why do I think it does matter, how and why.
Bristol has a grim history of slavery. There is nothing the present generation can do about that other than regret that our distant forefathers engaged in the awful trade. It is not our fault but some of us still find it more than embarrassing that our city was founded on something so evil. And as recently as 1963, the Bristol bus company refused to employ black and Asian bus drivers. At the time, the Transport and General Workers Union said “If one black man steps on the platform as a conductor, every wheel will stop.” Yes, the trade union said that. In the 1970s, the neo fascist National Front in Bristol made major electoral strides and threatened race relations in the city. And in 1980, there was major rioting in St Pauls. Many black people understandably felt they were regarded as second class citizens, with less opportunities in life purely down to their colour. The election of Marvin Rees as mayor of Bristol is a golden opportunity for those of colour and those of none to put those grim years of division behind.
No black youngster need now sit down and think that she or he has no chance of getting on in life because Marvin Rees did it, at a time when it was harder for black people to get on. I don’t think I am exaggerating here when I say that where equality was knocking on the door, Marvin Rees has kicked it down.
I am hugely proud that Bristol has elected a Labour mayor and a black Labour mayor for all the reasons I have given. His election is obviously about far more than symbolism because I firmly believe Marvin is a substantial figure in his own right. His election is one of the best things that has ever happened to this city.
He has a big job today, not least because he will be working in the face of huge cuts in spending from Whitehall, but I have faith in our new mayor because he has lived life in the real world, he knows how ordinary people live their lives and he has exciting ideas to make them better.