The Bristol Mayor election is conventionally presented as being between Marvin Rees on the one hand and a battle for second place between one of the many independents in the race – George Ferguson – and Cllr Jon Rogers, the Liberal Democrat.
However a more sober analysis would take a look at the game being played by the Conservative party.
Reports from the debates suggest the Tory candidate, Geoff Gollop, has given the most assured performance of Marvin’s opponents.
The Tories seem to be running a ‘below the radar’ campaign, largely avoiding big media hits in favour of quietly campaigning in their strongholds.
There is a clear logic for that strategy. The Tories want Labour voters to stay at home. A low turn-out suits them. They do not want to alarm Labour voters that there is a chance of a strong Tory showing or even the election of a Tory mayor.
They are keeping themselves to their own base.
The below-the-radar strategy of the Tories means relying on the Labour vote fracturing with a crowded field of candidates, or failing to materialise at its full-strength. This is a new election for voters in Bristol at an unusual time of the year.
In the last vote to take place in Bristol, the referendum to decide whether Bristol would have an elected mayor, the trend was clear. In wards that are ‘Labour’ – that is, wards where we hold both council seats – the turnout was on average 14%. In equivalent Conservative wards, the average turnout was 21%. That is a fifty per cent difference.
As it has been reported, that is quite a striking statistic when you show it in graphic terms:
You don’t have to be a genius to see that the Tories have an interest in our voters staying at home, whilst they quietly persuade theirs’ to the polls. They aim to leapfrog over the Lib Dems who have suffered as a result of the actions of their parliamentary leadership and local unpopularity.
Labour’s campaign must continue to work to identify and turn out our own vote whilst appealing to those voters who are coming back to Labour from the Lib Dems and others. Momentum has been with Marvin Rees, who has set out the clearest vision for the city – both a big city vision and one that will ensure that no one is left behind.
We all know how hard it will be to campaign as the next few days and weeks turn colder and darker – but we need to be absolutely clear with the electorate that there is a real danger of a stealthy Tory campaign seemingly coming from nowhere if the turnout is low.
Councillor Peter Hammond is the Leader of Bristol’s Labour Councillors