Kerry writes for Bristol Post, MP column, Friday 29th May 2022
The Prime Minister likes to consider himself an expert historian but becoming the first PM in British history to be found guilty of a criminal offence is perhaps one fact that Boris Johnson would rather forget.
Some have tried to dismiss ‘partygate’ as trivia, but it is far from that. It has caused great upset for those who made huge personal sacrifices during the pandemic: unable to comfort their loved ones during their final moments; missing births, weddings and funerals; going months on end without seeing friends and family. Many now feel these sacrifices were in vain. Some feel guilty that, unlike the Prime Minister, they didn’t break the rules.
People want the Prime Minister to be held to account. When the man leading our nation behaves as if the very laws that he introduced, that he expects everyone else to obey, don’t apply to him, it’s corrosive. It undermines trust in our political system, leaving people feeling alienated and with little faith in democracy.
Accountability is also very much at the heart of the political question that Bristolians will be voting on next Thursday, May 5th, when we go to the polls to decide whether we want to keep the mayoral system or bring back the committee system.
Under the mayoral system, everyone with a vote gets the chance to decide who leads our city by casting their ballot in a citywide election. The Mayor governs with the support of elected councillors and his Cabinet, but people know who is ultimately responsible for decisions. As I’m sure Marvin would tell you, his office hears from plenty of people wanting to tell him what they think, whether it’s good or bad! The Mayor is a recognisable figurehead, not just locally but on the national and even international stage. He is directly accountable to the people who put him in the role. As we saw with our first Mayor, people can vote them out of office and give someone else a go.
Under the old committee system, tried, tested and failed, it’s often difficult to work out just who is in charge and who is responsible for what. Most people can name the Mayor of Bristol; who would be able to name Committee chairs? With a plethora of committees, as I know from my time as a councillor, decision-making can become bogged down, with no-one really in charge of making things happen.
The committee system is also less democratic. It’s just a handful of councillors that gets to decide who chairs which committee and who becomes council leader. A Mayor can be outward-looking, focussed on what’s best for Bristol, while a committee chair needs to worry more about keeping their colleagues in City Hall happy.
If we revert to a committee system, the first change people will notice is they have lost a ballot paper. I hope that voters in Bristol will make good use of their vote next week and vote to keep an elected Mayor.