(reading time: 4 mins)
I voted for Marvin Rees in 2016 and consider myself a Labour voter by default, who sometimes votes Green or LibDem. I have never voted Tory and never will. But with bookies suggesting Bristol’s city mayor contest is a two horse race between Labour and the Greens, I will be voting for Green candidate Sandy Hore-Ruthven, not Bristol’s current mayor on May 6th.
Labour voters assume Greens can’t get elected and that Labour will always be more Green than the Tories anyway. But I would argue Marvin Rees’ environmental record is worse than a Tory mayor would have been. Here are three key issues.
Firstly Rees has supported more road building at Western Harbour, and supports turning the abandoned railway line at Callington Road in Brislington into a relief road for the A4. Strangely Labour have even argued this extra road will reduce pollution. For some reason they don’t understand the basics of road building – extra roads always fill up with more traffic, traffic jams and pollution follow. More roads only aggravate this problem.
Secondly Bristol Labour now sides with the fossil fuel companies. Yes seriously! In July 2019 there was a Green and LibDem motion before the council to have the Avon Pension Fund divest of its fossil fuel company investments. Labour diluted that motion and voted with the Tories for ‘active engagement’ with fossil fuel companies instead. ‘Active engagement’ is not a serious policy, it’s a lobbyist’s dream. Bristol Labour are staggeringly naive if they believe a local council might actually have some influence on multi-national oil companies – taking pension money out of oil and gas is the only way to exert influence. Even as a purely financial decision, fossil fuels will become increasingly risky for a pension fund, because fossil fuels have no long term future. In the next decade or two fossil fuel investments will lose value rapidly once renewable technologies reach a certain threshold (renewable power generation is already cheaper than fossil fuels). It’s the most bizarre decision from Labour, and the opposite of what I thought Labour were supposed to be about – opposing the predatory self-interests of the wealthiest.
Third was Rees’ response to the cancellation of a second runway at Bristol Airport by North Somerset council, in the week that Greta Thunberg visited the city in Feb 2020. This is how the interview went with Matt Frei of Channel 4 news;
|Frei:||But you were in favour of it last year, on the record.|
|Rees:||Well it’s not my decision, and as a political….. [inaudible]|
|Frei:||But you were in favour of it.|
|Rees:||Well no, because there’s a context. I’m not in favour of airport expansion. There is a question, the real aim is to get the number of people flying to reduce. And I think that’s where people are missing the point. We are in favour of reducing the number of people flying. And that’s the campaign I’m part of.|
Surely the only reason for a second runway was to increase the number of flights and the number of people flying? I’m not aware of Rees expressing any public opposition to a second runway, until the decision had been made and Greta Thunberg came to town. If he believed the economic benefits outweighed the environmental risks, he should have stuck with that position. But his response in that interview was clearly a politician suddenly hoping to distance himself from a controversial issue.
I will say during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests Marvin Rees did strike the right tone after Colston’s statue was (rightly in my view) finally pulled down. Other than that I’m struggling to think of much that’s positive from his five years in office. I didn’t vote for George Ferguson in 2012, but at least Ferguson had some clear policies associated with his tenure – parking zones, 20mph limits in residential areas, and pushing for a Bristol Arena in the middle of the city, which is the natural place for it. With Rees though, there are no signature policies.
There is also the question of why Bristol City Council kept wasting council tax payers’ money to prop up failing Bristol Energy www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol… and concerns about the political culture inside Bristol Labour www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/bristol-councillor-joins-greens…
I don’t see much leadership from Marvin Rees. As far as the environment goes, the leadership he has shown has been heading in the wrong direction. Labour voters who care about environmental issues should not make the mistake of assuming Bristol Labour are somehow ‘Green-Lite’.
Disclosure: This is my personal view written in my own time. I am a Bristol City Council employee in a non politically restricted post, and as such a member of the Avon Pension fund.