Bristol opposition councillors launch stinging attack on city mayor in explosive open letter

By Amanda Cameron

Bristol’s opposition councillors have united to publicly criticise remarks made by the elected mayor in City Hall this week, accusing him of “rank hypocrisy”.

Labour’s Marvin Rees suggested councillors lacked “integrity and dynamism” during a full council meeting on Tuesday (September 7).

He also told Green Party leadership challenger Carla Denyer during councillor question time beforehand that his “heart often sinks” when he sees a question from her, and accused her of practising “demoralising” politics.

READ MORE: Motion to save wildlife-rich land from development approved in Bristol

Today (September 10), the leaders of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Conservative groups sent an open letter to Mr Rees expressing their disappointment at his remarks, which they said were “cheapening the political discourse of Bristol” and undermining cross-party collaboration.

Cllrs Jos Clark, Paula O’Rourke and Mark Weston called on Mr Rees to follow his own advice to “improve the quality of civic discourse”.

“We feel that your comments show rank hypocrisy when you have previously echoed Michelle Obama’s ‘When they go low, we go high’ quote,” they wrote.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service has approached the mayor’s office for a comment.

What the mayor said

Member forum is an hour-long session before each full council meeting set aside for councillors from all parties to ask the questions of the mayor.

During member forum on Tuesday, Cllr Denyer, who is making a tilt at the national Green Party co- leadership with running mate Adrian Ramsay, asked whether Mr Rees would reconsider his refusal to back the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, a private members bill before Parliament.

Replying, Mr Rees said: “I just anticipated this and when I see your name my heart often sinks because it’s the usual, kind of, you know, chess game trying to get a tweet or a blog out of the answer that feeds that line that, you know, Labour Party don’t care about the planet and I don’t care about the planet and all that type of stuff, which is the only thing which is so just demoralising in the way that you do politics.”

During the full council meeting that followed, Mr Rees made the following remarks: “I started my day having quite a, you know, really engaged conversation with national and international leaders on the future of cities and how we were going to tackle the complex challenges we face, meeting our social needs, our housing needs, decarbonised growth, protect nature, and to be honest the step down in integrity and dynamism is disheartening.”

Mr Rees was responding to a debate over a proposal brought by the Conservatives and amended by the Greens which was pushed through by opposition councillors, who together hold the majority in the chamber.

The approved motion calls for the Green Belt and wildlife-rich land such as Yew Tree Farm, Brislington Meadows and the Western Slopes to be saved from development.

Releasing the letter on behalf of opposition group leaders today, Cllr Jos Clark, who leads the Liberal Democrat group said: “Tuesday’s meeting of full council showed that when the opposition parties work together, in this case on the green spaces protection motion, we can get stuff done.

“Unfortunately, the mayor does not seem to appreciate the work of active and engaged councillors, and resorts to frankly inappropriate language.

“I hope he will reflect and change his behaviour, so we can all get on and deliver for our residents.”

Opposition leaders' letter in full

In their letter, Cllrs Clark, O’Rourke (Greens) and Weston (Conservative) said: “We wanted to write to you following this week’s Full Council meeting, and your choice of words towards both individual councillors and the whole chamber.

“In your State of the City address in 2019, you said that “we urgently need an improvement in the quality of our civic discourse” and we are all in agreement with that statement, but unfortunately, we do not feel that your comments in recent Full Council meetings meet the standard of quality civic discourse.

“While we completely respect your right to disagree with our policy positions, as we all disagree with each other on policy, we must preserve the respect towards each other in our discourse in the chamber.

“To say that ‘your heart sinks’ when you see a specific councillor’s name on Member’s Forum, or to say that “the step down in integrity and dynamism is disheartening” when referring to the chamber is very disappointing behaviour.

“We feel that your comments show rank hypocrisy when you have previously echoed Michelle Obama’s ‘When they go low, we go high’ quote.

“Maligning councillors from the dais is cheapening the political discourse of Bristol, and if we are truly to tackle the many issues that Bristol is facing, from the climate emergency to the housing crisis, we must work together, and maintain respect in the chamber.

“This week’s Full Council showed that when we as parties work together across the aisle, we can craft and support motions that help fight Bristol’s multitude of long-term issues.

“We hope that you will bear this in mind at future meetings of Full Council so that we can all improve the quality of our civic discourse and ‘go high not low’.”

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