Bristol South has been a Labour seat since 1935, and current MP Karin Smyth was first elected in 2015. It has some of the most deprived areas in Bristol, and the country, in fact, which is something all candidates have a lot to say about, even Brexit Party’s Robert De Vito-Boutin, who’s only just got here.
Bristol is one of the most unequal cities in the UK, and the gap between the richest and the poorest has widened under the Conservatives, so I was curious to find out what the Conservative candidate’s pitch was.
Gentrification has also crept in over the last decade – Bedminster (it’s Bemmie, not Bedmo!) and Southville, I’m looking at you – which has driven up demand for housing and made it harder for locals to rent.
Because of the high level of deprivation and education and health inequalities, welfare reform, education funding, housing and the NHS will be high on the agenda of voters in this constituency.
Education equality is particularly bad in Bristol South, where several areas report high levels of child poverty (39% in Filwood, 36% in Hartcliffe, 21% in Bedminster and 20% in Knowle). Bristol South also has the fewest school leavers going to university, and it’s getting worse year on year. Incumbent Smyth blames government cuts to education. Earlier this year she organised a jobs and apprenticeships fair for south Bristol teenagers and she supports initiatives aimed at tackling education inequality in the area.
What happened in 2017 General Election?
Karin Smyth doubled her majority in the last election from a 66% turnout, and won twice as many votes as the next in line, Conservative Mark Weston, who’s standing in Bristol North West this time around.
What about Brexit?
Who’s in the running?
The candidates in alphabetical order
Andrew Brown, Liberal Democrats
Brown has lived in Totterdown and Knowle since moving to Bristol in 2010. He works as a financial adviser with financial planning, investment and wealth management company Citimark, a company that helps clients “Minimise the tax you pay in future”.
This is the first time he’s standing in a general election, but he has stood unsuccessfully three times as a council candidate in Windmill Hill, in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The last time, he got 20% of the vote, losing to Labour candidates Lucy Whittle and Jon Wellington. He’s secretary of the Liberal Democrats’ LGBT+ group and a member of Amnesty International, and the Liberty and Howard League for Penal Reform.
Brown says the Conservatives have let us down at a national level and Labour has let us down at a local level. As well as the obvious Brexit and climate change, the key issues he’s campaigning around are human and civil rights and investing in “left-behind areas”. He’s also keen on addressing inequalities between the generations.
“I would want to work on investment in skills for people in our most deprived communities,” said Brown, adding: “There is also a perception that the south of the city is ignored by the local administration, and I would lobby the council for more focus to be given to this part of the city to improve its infrastructure, environment, and amenities.”
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Q: Can you tell me more about what you mean when you talk about a fair deal for young and old alike?
A: “This was a non-buzzwordy way to talk about the idea of “inter-generational fairness”. Talking in very general terms, a lot of older people have experienced prolonged periods of economic growth that have seen them benefit from generous pensions, large increases in house values, and the ability to retire early. They are also hold more weight in the electorate and parties often promote policies which benefit them.
“Meanwhile, and again in general terms, younger people are finding it more difficult to own, or even rent, a home of their own, will not have similar retirement benefits, and are likely to have to work longer. I believe that we need – as a society – to seriously think about how we balance the rights and expectations of younger and older people, to find ways to address the current imbalance.”
Robert De Vito-Boutin, Brexit Party
Like all the other Brexit Party candidates standing in Bristol’s constituencies, Robert doesn’t live here and is only standing in a Bristol constituency because he was stood down elsewhere as part of the Brexit Party’s agreement to not split the Leave vote in strong Conservative constituencies. This is the third constituency he’s stood in in two weeks – he was first in St Ives, then in Truro and Falmouth, before being moved again to stand for Bristol South. He says he worked out of an office in Bristol for 10 years, has family here, and is prepared to move here if he gets elected.
De Vito-Boutin is from Penzance and has worked as a teacher, headteacher, screenwriter, copywriter and as a Catholic missionary in France.
He lists a host of things he’ll change in the area if elected, regenerating the local area, and working with the local community “to make sure that money goes to the right people and provides real value”. More propoals are outlined in the Brexit Party’s ‘contract’ (which is what they’re calling their manifesto, as they say ‘manifesto’ has become a dirty word).
“Beyond that, I’m keen to support improving the environment by planting millions of trees to capture CO2 and make it illegal for us to export our recycled waste across the world to be burnt, buried or dumped at sea.”
De Vito-Boutin speaks French, has lived in France and says that he loves Europe, but that the EU is a different matter. “The direction of travel from a trade federation to an empire is alarming,” he says in a YouTube video explaining why he’s standing in Bristol South.
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Q: When you were standing for Truro and Falmouth, the party proclaimed you have “a close knowledge of the unique needs of the county”. Now you’re standing for Bristol South, how are you more suited than the candidates who live here and know the area well?
A (Edited down from a longer response): “Normally, you’d expect the people who had lived in their constituency for a long time to be the most likely to best represent the interests of the people there. But when you read the statistics relating to Bristol South and you visit the different parts of the constituency, it’s obvious that something has gone very badly wrong.
“Over a long period of time, a community of wonderful people has suffered from serial neglect, and Bristol South is now a sadly divided, seriously deprived area with record levels of child poverty and unacceptably long delays to see a GP. Other issues include gangs, drugs, vandalism and lawlessness.”
Tony Dyer, Green Party
Green candidate Tony Dyer hails from Hartcliffe and lives in Southville. He says that his large family “spread across south Bristol”, meaning he’s interconnected with the area and understands “its history and aspirations”. He stood in the 2017 and 2015 elections too, but lost to Labour’s Karin Smyth.
He’s been with the Green party for a while; he works on local government issues with the Bristol Green Councillor group and on Brexit-related issues with Green MEP Molly Scott Cato.
He used to work in the construction industry, then changed to IT, and writes about economic and political issues. Dyer says that Bristol South – which has some of the most deprived areas in the country – keeps missing out on investment and that rising housing costs are plunging families into poverty.
Dyer says that the biggest issues facing the people of Bristol South, aside from Brexit and climate change, are air pollution, jobs and cuts (which he mentions together because the majority of benefit claimants now are employed) and housing.
He acknowledges the extent to which Brexit has divided the area, saying that the northern section of the constituency is mostly Remain while the southern section is mainly Leave. While he’s in favour of staying in the EU, he says he’s “concerned at the lack of understanding and empathy shown by a small but vocal minority in the Remain camp towards many of those voted Leave”. Instead we need to heal the divide, he says.
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Q: You say that your close links to south Bristol means that you understand its history and aspirations. In your opinion, what are the biggest policy issues facing South Bristol, and how will you fight for them if elected?
A: (Edited down from a longer response, which has been summarised above): “The Green Party recognises that we are not going to form a majority government after this election, so, as well as a manifesto, we have produced a series of bills which a Green MP, or better still, a group of Green MPs will fight for.
“These include a bill for a Green New Deal that is fit for purpose to reach zero carbon by 2030. It will fundamentally transform our energy mix and our consumption of energy, it will deliver the skills and create the jobs needed, and provide the funding needed in order to reach net zero by 2030.
“We would introduce a New Homes Bill to build 100,000 new zero carbon homes for social rent each and every year and we will introduce a Renters Rights bill to provide stability to those in private rent. We will put forward a Universal Basic Income bill to completely transform the benefits system so it is once again a safety net for those in need not a way of punishing people for the failures of government. A further education bill would scrap tuition fees, a NHS reinstatement bill will end the systematic privatisation of Britain’s greatest social achievement. The list goes on.”
Richard Morgan, Conservatives
Conservative candidate for Bristol South Richard Morgan is yet another candidate who doesn’t live in the city he’s standing in, let alone the constituency. Morgan lives in Tetbury, a village in the Cotswolds.
He’s no stranger to politics. A councillor in Cotswold District Council, where he’s also the leader of the Conservative Group, and previously a councilor in the London borough of Bexley, Morgan was the Chair of Tetbury and District Conservatives and has been a research assistant for Tory MP David Evennett.
He says that Bristol South is being left behind when it comes to regeneration projects and is against the mayor’s proposed local plan: “[It] treats our area like an inconvenient problem rather than a positive opportunity,” he told me.
He says that the clean air zone is draconian and is being implemented too quickly (this despite the fact the council has been slammed for acting too slowly on Bristol’s air pollution). “The mayor has had since July 2017 to put forward a plan and if the City Council had acted quicker, we could have a better, more tapered and phased solution.”
Morgan is “a keen supporter of the fight against climate change”, but doesn’t think we should have to choose between the environment and the economy.
Aside from Brexit, key policy areas for Morgan are the NHS (which is 40,000 nurses down after nine years of Conservative rule), introducing an Australian-style points-based system to control immigration, carbon neutrality by 2050 and not increasing income tax, VAT or national insurance.
He also says he’s concerned about antisocial behaviour, drugs and the rise of violent crimes across Bristol, and Conservative action on this includes an extra 20,000 police (presumably to replace the 21,000 the Conservatives have cut since 2010).
He wants more officers carrying Tasers, which probably won’t go down well in Bristol, where a police officer Tasered an elderly innocent man in the face last year. He also advocates making 10,000 new prison spaces and increasing police powers to stop and search, despite a report last year finding that racial bias in stop and search was getting worse.
“Should I be elected as your MP for Bristol South, I will support all efforts to take criminals off the streets and protect us and our city,” he said.
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Q: You say that Bristol South is being left behind in terms of regeneration projects and opportunities for young residents – what initiatives will you focus on to achieve this if you’re elected?
A: (Edited down from a longer response): “Bristol South has elected a Labour MP since 1935 and, consequently, I feel the area is being neglected and forgotten about by the Labour council and Labour Mayor. Worse still I think they have actively prioritized other parts of the city, like removing historic lamp-posts from the south for relocation to more “affluent” parts of Bristol.
“Bristol South needs somebody with a strong voice who is willing to fight for the area and, should I be elected, I intend to do that.
“Projects like the £50 million rejuvenation of St Catherine’s Place in Bedminster need to be encouraged and supported by the city council rather than continuously blocked and frustrated.”
Karin Smyth, Labour
Incumbent Karin Smyth has held this seat since 2015. Before her, Dawn Pimorolo, also Labour, was MP for Bristol South for nearly 30 years.
Smyth, who has been a member of the Labour party since 1985, won with 38.4% of the vote in 2015, almost doubling her vote share to 60% in the 2017 election. She’s a vocal critic of the Conservative’s austerity politics, saying they hurt the lowest paid and most vulnerable while giving tax cuts to millionaires.
She’s been Shadow Secretary for Exiting the European Union, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons and Shadow Minister in Labour’s Northern Ireland team. She’s a member of Labour Friends of Israel and Unison.
Smyth has more than 20 years experience of working in the NHS and is passionate about the institution and about protecting it from privatisation. She writes a lot about changes to the way the NHS is run and was opposed to the wave of NHS trusts establishing wholly owned companies last year.
She has voted for, and spoken in parliament about, assisted dying, citing the case of terminally ill Geoffrey Whaley and his wife Ann, who faced a criminal investigation earlier this year for helping him travel to the Dignitas centre in Switzerland.
Like her fellow Bristol MPs, Smyth isn’t overly enamoured of party leader Jeremy Corbyn. She wrote an open letter to constituents supporting Kerry McCarthy and Thangam Debbonaire when they resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet in 2016, and supported Owen Smith in the leadership competition.
According to parliament monitoring website, They Work For You, Smyth has generally voted for more EU integration in the past and for the right to remain for EU nationals already living in the UK. She is in favour of constitutional reform, voting to lower the voting age, to remove hereditary Lords and make the House of Lords wholly elected.
She’s almost always voted against reducing spending on welfare benefits, for higher taxes on banks and against reducing the rate of corporation tax. She’s also generally voted for measures to prevent climate change, including incentives for low carbon electricity generation, but voted against more regulation of fracking.
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Q: What are the biggest issues facing Bristol South, in your opinion, and how will you fight for them if re-elected?
A: “The biggest challenge facing communities across Bristol South is the growing inequality and unfairness after almost a decade of Conservative government.
“They have taken millions in funding from our local schools, cut the NHS and failed to invest in housing. They have also overseen a devastating reduction in the support offered to sick and disabled people.
“These points are not electioneering or finger pointing – they are real, and they are ruining lives.
“If re-elected, righting these wrongs will continue to be my priority.
“And I’m proud that Labour’s manifesto has social justice at its heart, with practical measures to help day to day in Bristol South. Investment in bus services, properly funding schools and early years support, enabling our councils to build housing for local people – and scrapping Universal Credit.”