Bristol mayoral culture hustings

29 April 2016, Blog

Less than one week away, the Bristol mayoral elections are really gathering pace. Last night saw the Bristol 24/7 cultural husting in The Lantern at Colston Hall. A great example of a venue that adds to and promotes the rich cultural mix of the city.

This husting was quite different to the others, bringing all 13 of the mayoral candidates together. Each were offered 60 seconds per question to answer, with a buzzer loudly announcing when their time was up. To the watching audience it felt more like a comedy panel gameshow rather than a serious political debate.

Initial questions focused on why the candidates were standing for mayor: Marvin to tackle social deprivation, George because he loves the way Bristol does things differently. Charles Lucas wants to get the city moving, and Tony Dyer is looking to improve housing, transport and social care. So far, nothing radically different from the previous hustings held across the city.

But this one was supposedly culture focused. For the first arts question of the evening, candidates were asked: Bristol gets less core funding for the arts than any other city – what will you do to support arts and culture here?

Marvin pledged to bid for the European Capital of Culture bid, but if he wins, he will challenge cultural leadership to engage across the city on a wider level. Charles Lucas referenced the work of Bristol Music Trust in supporting musical education across the city, and the investment of the city council in the Bottle Yard Studios, a council owned film and television facility in a previous bottling factory in Hengrove. George used this opportunity to announce that if re-elected, he will introduce a ‘golden ticket’ scheme, offering children across the city opportunities to attend cultural and sports events. Tony Dyer was the only candidate to recognise the contribution the arts brings to the city’s economy, and he would build on this by introducing lower business rates for non-profit organisations.

The next question was aimed at George. How would he fund other arts venues across the city, to make them accessible to all? George referenced asset transfers; Colston Hall for example is more than just a building.

Predictably, it wasn’t long before the questions turned away from culture and back towards the sticking points of the whole election period: housing, transport, education and social inequality. The audience were getting restless and the heckling increased; it seemed the debate had lost its momentum. Having all 13 candidates on stage did hinder the debate – the answers were short and lacking in substance. With no opportunity to go into any detail, the candidates seemed rushed to fill their 60 seconds, no doubt aware of the ticking countdown to May the 5th.

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