Bristol mayor elect George Ferguson: Red rosettes crumpled by red trousers
Until now, he was probably best known by the people of Bristol as the man who wears red trousers.
Yesterday voters decided he is much more than that and installed George Ferguson as the city’s first elected mayor.
He had been second favourite with the bookmakers and a major underdog to Labour candidate Marvin Rees but beat the NHS manager on second preference votes.
Mr Ferguson, a 65-year-old architect who founded the Tobacco Factory arts centre in the Southville area of the city, promised to ask the Government for more powers and resources to turn Bristol into one of the best cities in Europe.
Bridal hand tied bouquet (Roses)
2 Bridesmaids (Roses)
Groom & Best Man button holes (Roses)
Discounted rates apply to larger Bridal party requests.
Not to be used with any other offer.
Contact: 0117 2448228
Valid until: Tuesday, December 31 2013
“Considering I was 5/1 against at the bookies yesterday, it does seem quite extraordinary,” he said. “I suppose I have always been prepared for it but I hadn’t prepared an acceptance speech. I feel a huge responsibility, but a welcome one.
“I really feel that everything I have done in Bristol has sort of led up to this, without me really knowing about it.”
Mr Ferguson said that it was yesterday – while out on the streets encouraging people to vote – that he realised he could win.
“It was probably yesterday, out on the street. It was just an extraordinary response, not that I knew I had it but I really felt it was at least an evens chance that I had got it,” he said. “It was simply just walking down pavements at Temple Meads and shopping centres – I went all over the place.
“Wherever I went, there was recognition and enthusiasm. I felt something really extraordinary was happening here. It is extraordinary and you cannot really underestimate the effects of this.
“This is a big political movement and I think Bristol has led the way in what could happen in many cities.
“And that’s why I feel a huge responsibility. I feel we have got to get it right here and we may be able to reduce the party political engagement in our cities.
“I think party politics was definitely invented for central government – and is necessary for central government – but in our cities I feel it prevents some of the best people from going into public service.
“I think you can only judge the individual when you haven’t got a party. I’m hoping that more independents will now get involved in local politics.”
The election was a bad result for the Liberal Democrats, who currently run Bristol City Council, as their candidate – retired GP and council deputy leader Dr Jon Rogers – finished fourth behind Conservative Geoff Gollop. Turnout was 27.92 per cent, with 90,273 people deciding between 15 candidates on the ballot paper.
Mr Ferguson, who was the driving force behind the regeneration of the landmark Tobacco Factory, will begin his four-year term on Monday and replaces Lib Dem council leader Simon Cook.
He said he faced a big challenge in the coming weeks as he starts work on setting a budget that is facing a cut of an extra £25 million.
“It’s a daunting task and I’ll go into that office and might find it’s even worse. I won’t know until I see the books,” he said. “I am determined that we do things in a way that protects the most vulnerable, the poorest. That’s where I think my priorities will lie.”
Mr Ferguson added: “It is a hell of a task to take on. I can’t say I’ve always wanted the job and I will tell you in a few months’ time whether I really wanted it.
“It’s brilliant today and I feel totally honoured and humbled by it. But it’s a hard task ahead if we are to somehow reduce the budget and maintain those services and champion Bristol. What I really look forward to is bringing more wealth to Bristol, getting more investment in Bristol and finding ways of sharing that across the city, so that everyone feels that they are part of it and they can play a part in the future of Bristol’s governance.”
Mr Ferguson said he planned to pick the most talented people to be part of his cabinet – irrespective of their politics.
“I think that’s essential – it’s a no-brainer to me,” he said.
“Take the best talent and use it. Don’t waste it on making political decisions – and that will apply for everything across the city.”
Labour candidate Mr Rees admitted he was disappointed but took heart from inspiring others from similar backgrounds to his own to aspire to great heights. He said it was inevitable that when you put yourself forward to reach great goals, you would experience defeat on the way.
Mr Rees was the clear favourite since he was first elected by his party to represent them. But voters in the Labour heartlands failed to turn out while the Tory and Lib Dem voters turned to Mr Ferguson in the leafy surburbs.
One of the reasons thought to be behind the poor Labour turnout was the timing of the election in mid-November when it is difficult to get people to turn out on cold, dark nights. A high turnout would probably have favoured the Labour candidate.
But such theories can only be treated as excuses and speculation – ultimately it looked like being Mr Ferguson’s day right from the moment an exit poll by our sister paper the Bristol Post emerged.
In a speech after the result was declared, Mr Ferguson said: “This was not a vote for me but a vote for Bristol”. He said: “We’ve delivered what the Government wants – now they must deliver what we want.”
He added: “I want to make it clear that I am now your servant. Whether you are from the Left or the Right, young or old, blue or red, whatever colour, creed or background, whether you are wealthy or poor, we should honour every single citizen in this city.”
In all, 15 candidates took part in the election – a record number for a mayoral contest in England and Wales.
Mr Ferguson said he was fed up with saying that Bristol was “somewhere near Bath” and wanted everyone to know where Bristol was.
He will take his oath of acceptance in a ceremony at Temple Meads station on Monday – when he officially takes office. He will attend his first full council meeting on Tuesday.
Mr Ferguson ran as the Bristol 1st candidate and polled 37,353 votes to Mr Rees’s 31,259 votes. He becomes the first independent mayor to lead a major city in Britain. Other independents around the country include “Robocop” Ray Mallon in Middlesbrough and Stuart Drummond in neighbouring Hartlepool, who first won as football club mascot “H’Angus the Monkey”.
Electors in Bristol used the supplementary voting system – meaning they could vote for a first and second choice candidate.
Mr Ferguson failed to secure the 50 per cent he needed to win in the first round and he then entered a run-off with Mr Rees after the remaining 13 candidates were eliminated.
All the second preference votes of the eliminated candidates were added to the totals of Mr Ferguson and Mr Rees, leaving the former as the winner.