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Sam Head explains why students should vote in this important election.

On the 4th May 2017 registered voters in Bristol, Bath, North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire will have the opportunity to vote for their first and second preference candidates for the new job of west of England Metro-Mayor; here is why the election is important for students at the University of Bristol.

The winner of this election will have a great deal of influence over policy areas which will impact students.

The role of Metro-Mayor was created as an elected position, the occupier of which will lead the new West of England combined authority and will have power over transport, housing and the economy, but not over schools, healthcare, waste or other council services. The new authority is a product of the government’s ‘western powerhouse’ vision which aims to bring close to £1 Billion investment into the region whilst also devolving power.

Why does this matter to students? The winner of this election will have a great deal of influence over policy areas which will impact students. These include: public transport issues such as proposals for innovations in bus pricing and ticketing systems across the region, housing issues such as increasing the availability of affordable rented accommodation and economic issues such as politically representing the region during the turbulent Brexit period and beyond. The boundaries of the new authority encompass a very broad range of locations; from metropolitan Bristol and Bath to rural villages in Gloucestershire and Somerset. This makes winning the election challenging for each candidate.


Who is standing? The most well-known candidate is the Liberal Democrat’s Stephen Williams, former MP for Bristol-West and former minister for communities and local government. Tipped as the favourite recently by Ladbrokes, William’s past experiences in local government and economic planning, as well as his recent vocal campaigning against Brexit make him a strong candidate. The composition of the electorate across the region means that the election is widely regarded as a two-horse race between Williams and his Conservative rival, the pro-Brexit former salesman Tim Bowles, a councillor in Winterbourne who has expressed the desire to prevent Labour dominated Bristol from shaping the local political agenda.

Labour voters will be vital to the outcome of this election. Whilst the lack of support for Labour outside of Bristol renders their candidate Lesley Mansell highly unlikely to win; second preference votes and even possible tactical switch votes from Labour supporters could prevent a Tory win and secure a pro-Remain voice in the form of Williams. Other candidates ranked as outsiders by the bookies include John Savage (Independent), Darren Hall (Greens) and Aaron Foot (UKIP).

Though the election is ostensibly about the future direction of local politics under the new combined authority, broader political themes will also have a big influence upon voters’ intentions. Bristol students who voted in overwhelming numbers to remain in the EU (according to ward voting data) may well take the opportunity to give the government a bloody nose, voicing their anxieties about a ‘hard’ Brexit by supporting ‘Bristol for Europe’ campaigner and Liberal Williams. His main opponent will look to capitalise on Brexit support in the region and traditionally conservative areas.

This is a major opportunity for political participation.

Rumour has it that the Labour and Green campaigns whilst promoting their own candidates are divided over balancing this with a realistic pragmatism which acknowledges that Williams represents the best opportunity to defeat the Tories. Whatever the political orientation of different students at Bristol, this is a major opportunity for political participation. The voting system means that each ballot paper will provide the opportunity to choose both a first and crucially also a second choice. Voters will therefore have to think carefully about their broader political agenda beyond party loyalties.

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