Mayor hopeful declares "outbreak of undemocracy" after not being invited to hustings
A MAYORAL candidate has declared an “outbreak of undemocracy” after he being refused a seat on the panel of a number of hustings events.
The Respect party’s Neil Maggs interrupted a packed debate held at Colston Hall
after being told that he and several other candidates would not be allowed on the panel “to keep it manageable”.
He says he was also turned away from a sustainability and housing debate at Watershed.
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Organisers of some hustings events have restricted the number of candidates allowed to debate and answer questions, with membership of the panel at Colston Hall limited to Labour, the Conservatives, Lib Dems, Greens and Bristol 1st’s George Ferguson.
Mr Maggs protested outside the Colston Hall event and argued beforehand with organiser Martin Booth, of the website Bristol Culture, before calling during the debate for anyone who “believes in democracy” to join him in a walk-out.
One member of the audience followed him.
Independent candidate Rich Fisher also protested at not being invited to join the debate, telling people arriving at the event: “You are entering a democracy-free zone.”
He added: “I believe it is contravening the rules of the electoral commission not to at least inform all candidates that a hustings is happening - I had to find out about this second hand.”
Mr Maggs said: “There’s an outbreak of undemocracy in this city. Certain organisations are only inviting certain people along to these supposedly public and open debates.
“I was shocked to find there was no place for our party on the sustainability hustings organised by the Friends of the Earth. Then the next morning I had to argue my way into the Housing Federation’s version of a debate just to get a seat in the audience.
“Then we faced another brick wall as Colston Hall failed to include me in the line up. It’s unbelievable treatment.
“Respect is a serious, national political party and to exclude us goes against the concept of democracy.
“The Post managed to accommodate everyone, as did Hotwells and Cliftonwood Community Association.
“The organisers who do not are showing a lack of respect - they are only inviting the privileged few.”
Mr Maggs showed The Post a copy of an e-mail exchange in which a Colston Hall employee told him: “I’m really sorry but time is so tight for this event that in order to keep it manageable we have to keep it to the five main candidates, in common with many of the other hustings taking place in the city.”
Martin Booth, editor of the Bristol Culture website and host of last night's Colston Hall hustings, said the intention of the debate was to cover a “diverse spectrum of issues” in a wide-ranging debate.
“For this reason, we had to make the difficult decision to limit the candidates at the hustings to those who make up the parties on Bristol City Council as well as the independent candidate ranked highest by bookmakers,” he said.
Julian Jones, coordinator for Bristol Friends of the Earth which helped organise the Watershed event, told The Post that the organisations had to limit space on the panel to cover all the subjects adequately.
He said: “There was no particular reason for not inviting one particular party. To just get through the range of issues in the amount of time we had we needed to look at who was representing the parties in the current council and the leading independents.
“To get a meaningful discussion going on some of the issues we had no choice but to limit the numbers.”
He added that all electoral commission guidelines were followed.
A hustings held by charity Sustrans, Lifecycle UK and Bristol Cycling Campaign and hosted by law firm Burges Salmon was attended by six of the 15 candidates, with Mr Fisher and Birthday Party candidate Dave Dobbs left standing at the back of the room.
There are a total of 15 candidates standing for election on November 15.
The mayoral elections will be coupled with the Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner elections.