Mayor Marvin Rees addresses crowd in Bristol. Photo: Jack Hazeldine Mayor Marvin Rees addresses crowd in Bristol. Photo: Jack Hazeldine

As protesters take to the streets of Bristol, Tom Whittaker takes a look at the options for building resistance against the cuts

Back in May, Marvin Rees was elected as the first black mayor of Bristol, a city with its history steeped in slavery.

His election represented a rejection of the cuts and austerity of the previous administration and was a product of a left wing mood across much of the city. Marvin shared numerous platforms with Jeremy Corbyn on the campaign trail and together they celebrated his victory on College Green.

Fast forward four months and Marvin risks presiding over huge cuts to the local authority budget. 1,000 council workers stand to lose their jobs with severe cuts planned to vital services for vulnerable adults and children and families in particular.

Last night Bristol People’s Assembly and Unite Community protested outside the full council meeting. Marvin, to his credit, came out to address the protest. He warned us of the dangers of the council setting an illegal budget and of being taken into direct administration by central government. He said his hands were tied. However, he then began to speak about the influences on him, Cornel West and of the changes he wished to see in Bristol. He spoke about how he needed to think strategically on behalf of the city. For instance, he did not believe it wise for him to call a demonstration against the cuts.

Perhaps he has a point, but crucially he also informed us he planned to go to London to see Theresa May in order to press Bristol’s case. Here it was put to Marvin that the rest of us are, thankfully, much less constrained in what we can do and, that on the day he goes to London, we are ready to call a demonstration in his support. The city on the streets, Bristol vs. Theresa May.

At this point that Marvin said something about Selma & the importance of movements changing the political climate in which leaders operate. He mused as to whether Bristol could set an agenda and change the terms of political debate. Some scepticism is necessary, but perhaps Marvin can see the possibilities for a city mayor with a strong local mandate to offer at least some limited resistance to central government? He’s spent time in the USA, could he actually make a name
for himself? 

There is a window of opportunity here, but that depends on getting the idea out across the city that a mass demonstration in Bristol to coincide with Marvin’s visit to London could make a big difference. This is ultimately not about Marvin Rees, it’s about the people of Bristol and beyond.

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