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The Bristol Cable

Marvin Rees re-elected as Bristol mayor despite Green surge

The Labour candidate received a smaller vote share than in 2016, but it was enough to see off Green candidate Sandy Hore-Ruthven.

Local Elections 2021
Photos: David Griffiths

Marvin Rees has been re-elected as the mayor of Bristol, doing enough to see off a strong surge of support for the Green Party’s Sandy Hore-Ruthven. 

The Labour candidate won 59,276 votes overall (56%) after 9,332 second preference votes had been added. Hore-Ruthven ended up 13,613 votes behind because the 8,766 second preference votes were not enough to close the gap.

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“Getting elected the first time is one thing, getting re-elected is of a whole different order,” said Rees in his election speech. “And part of the blessing of being re-elected is an affirmation that people like what you’ve been doing. Some don’t. But on the whole, people like the way we’ve tried to lead the city, we’ve tried to be inclusive, we’ve focused on delivering social justice in the face of climate and ecological emergencies.”

In an emotional speech, Rees also looked back on his journey, as the count took place at his old school, City Academy, and reflected on losing his young brother in December. 

Sandy Hore-Ruthven, who struggled to hold back tears, warmly congratulated his Labour opponent. He said: “The number of Green votes in Bristol shows that the tide is turning. It’s time to change how we run our city and our country, and despite the challenges of the pandemic, and maybe even because of the challenges, tens of thousands of people in Bristol have cast their vote in a different way, to say that we must tackle the climate emergency and protect our natural world.”

Rees won with a smaller share of the votes this election than when he defeated George Ferguson in 2016 – 36.3% in the first round, down from 40.4%. By contrast, the Greens more than tripled their first round vote share from 2016 – from 7.1% to 26.1% this time around. This shift will be something to watch out for in the council results, which are being announced on Sunday.

The socially-distanced count went on late into the night at City Academy in Easton

The mayor emphasised that this would be his last term: “I didn’t think it was a big secret, I said I was going to do only two terms. And then I think you’ve got to give the city space to breathe, to reinvent itself. I think if a leader stays in place too long, he can actually become a blocker on change and dynamism and innovation”.

Rees pointed out that the lack of discussion around race and class from candidates and the media in this election had been a glaring omission, saying “It’s shocked me actually, and this is a bit of a challenge to you all to be honest. None of you has talked about race and class in this election at all.”

After Rees and Hore-Ruthven, Conservative Alistair Watson got 25,816 votes (18.6%) and Lib Dem Caroline Gooch received 15,517 votes (11.2%). Of the independents and smaller parties, independent candidate Sean Donelly got 4,956 votes, Tom Baldwin of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, got 3,194, independent John Langley got 1,528, Reform UK’s Robert Clarke got 806 and Oska Shaw got 389 votes. Turnout was 41.2% this election, slightly down from 44.9% in 2016.

Both Watson and Gooch campaigned on pledges to have a referendum on scrapping the mayoral system altogether. In the last few months, Rees has been criticised by his own councillors for not allowing them to play an important enough role in local democracy.

On Sunday, Labour will be hoping to keep overall control of the council across the city’s 34 wards, but could come under pressure from the Greens, given their vote share in the mayoral race.

Check our local election page to get the full breakdown of results when they are announced over the weekend.


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  • Marvin makes a good point about lack of discussion on race or class in the campaign or by the media. Yet Bristol is defined by them.


  • I wasn’t a mayoral candidate nor do I work in media. Having seen Marvin at work, I think I know why these issues weren’t a talking point. He frequently use race and class to denigrate his critics, and insist that their arguments are invalid because of their background. I’m pretty sure that this is a conscious effort on Marvin’s part to move the discussion away from his failings. It’s classic slight of hand politicking.
    I wish these issues had been raised more: especially when it comes to Marvin’s failure to tackle air pollution in the city. Pre-covid19, it was estimated that Bristols illegal levels of air pollution killed 300 people a year! On top of this there’s the negative impact that air pollution has on children’s physical and mental development, which effect their attainment level at school and their long-term health prospects. Of course, these impacts fall disproportionately on people in poorer neighbourhoods, with with a higher percentage of BAME residents. What is more, Bristol has been identified as the place where air pollution has increased the most since the first lockdown.
    When he became mayor in 2016, did Marvin move to mitigate this structural racism that prioritises the convenience of people from wealthier, whiter areas over people from poorer, working class and more ethnically diverse neighbourhoods? Nope. He dragged his feet and has still not delivered a working Clean Air Zone CAZ, despite kicks up the rear from central government.
    I hope newly elected councillors will keep reminding Marvin of this important race and class issue until he implements policy that properly addresses it.
    PS It’s estimated that the proposed CAZ will only reduce deaths from air pollution by 7%. So that will be 279 deaths per year rather than 300. Yay!


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