Do we need a Bristolian mayor?
Do you have to be born in the city to be a Bristolian, or can you become one? Does it matter when it comes to choosing which box to tick in the mayoral elections? Outsider David Clensy looks at the issue
DOES an elected mayor for Bristol need to be Bristolian? What does it even mean to be Bristolian? Do you have to be "born and bred" in the city, or can you become a Bristolian if you've lived here long enough?
Bristol is a city with a long heritage of welcoming outsiders, and calling them its own – from John Cabot all the way through to Sir David Attenborough. It seems simply a connection to the city can mean you are taken to its heart.
But there is a contradictory element in the Bristolian psyche that labels "the outsider" as someone of whom to be mildly suspicious, and keeps a tight embrace with fellow Bristolians.
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But what effect will this have on the contest to find an elected mayor for the city?
While many of the candidates were born and raised in the area – including Marvin Rees, Geoff Gollop, Neil Maggs, Spud Murphy and Tony Britt, others such as George Ferguson and Jon Rogers are "outsiders" who actively chose to come to the city as students.
For 32-year-old Jody Kamali, who was raised in Southmead, the characteristics that make a Bristolian are clear – the comedian distilled them into his comedy persona, Terry The Odd Job Man.
"Bristolians are essentially down-to-earth," he says. "There is a real genuineness and honesty that defines them. Without that, you cease to be truly Bristolian, even if you're from the city.
"You have to be on their level, and they won't stand for it if you try to be anything else. I'm talking about real Bristolians – people from Bedminster, Knowle or Southmead. They are laid-back; they're naturally peaceable people.
"But sometimes that laid-back nature means things just don't get done. They tend to be happy to maintain the status quo. That's where I think it's actually healthy for the city when outsiders do come in, and shake things up a bit.
"Being in the creative industries myself, I'm a big fan of George Ferguson, and all he achieved at the Tobacco Factory. I've even offered to do some little videos for George's campaign website as Terry the Odd Job Man, to give his campaign an authentically Bristolian element.
"George may not be born and bred here, but he's lived here since coming to Bristol to study at the university. He's helped to shape the modern city, and I think the fact that he's chosen to live here and play an active part in the city, shows he understands and feels as passionately about the city as anyone who was born here.
"So in that sense, I think you can become a Bristolian after you have lived here for long enough. You can be accepted into the fold."Bristolians are open and welcoming like that – and let's face it, if you go back a few centuries, the city was shaped by so-called outsiders, back in the days when the port was a centre of world commerce."
Few people understand the psyche of Bristolians quite as well as Geoffrey Davis, the retired civil servant who made a name for himself in the city after creating an alter-ego "Professor of Bristolian", and uploading a "Teach yourself Bristolian" video to YouTube – a video which has had 50,000 hits in three years.
"I think being Bristolian is likely to give candidates a slight advantage when it comes to getting votes on the day," says the 58-year-old, who was raised in Brentry, but now lives in Sardinia.
"We Bristolians are very interesting people – the city has always been called the graveyard of ambition, because it is a comfortable place to settle down. But outsiders are never immediately accepted – although over time they can become adopted as Bristolians.
"One friend described it well when he said you can't just make friends with a Bristolian without being on a probationary period for a few years first – this is a similar sort of thing.
"We're a proud people, but we're also strangely embarrassed – we are painfully aware we can tend to sound like farmers or pirates, and that holds us back a little. For a city the size of Bristol, it's alarming how few famous Bristolians you can think of."
Independent candidate Stoney Garnett, who lives in Whitchurch, but grew up in Knowle, is proud to be a "born and bred" Bristolian.
The former postman, ex-football referee and avid Bristol City fan says he believes his Bristolian heritage gives him a "significant advantage".
"I think it will make a massive difference – big time," the 65-year-old says, in his best Bristol accent. "People will vote for me because they know I'm one of them, and I've been around the block at my age – I've talked to everyone, from the lowest to the highest in society. So I understand what Bristolians want."
Fellow mayoral candidate Tim Collins says: "I was bred in Bristol. My dad, Charles, was born in Bedminster and my mum, Diana, was born in St Paul's.
"However, by the fact that my dad was captain of Welton Rovers FC from 1955 to 1964, I happened to be born in St Martin's Hospital, Combe Down, Bath.
"I pride myself on the fact that I was born south of the River Avon, therefore, a bona fide Bristol City supporter."
Marvin Rees, the Labour Party candidate says: "As I was born and raised in Bristol, I know that it makes me care passionately about the city. I have experienced the best and the worst of Bristol and it is those experiences that are important to take to the mayor's office.
"As to whether it will affect the result and whether people will vote for a Bristolian, I hope so."
Geoff Gollop, the Tory candidate, is equally enthusiastic about being Bristolian: "I am proud to have been born in Bristol and grown up in the city, and I come across many others who share that pride and passion.
"Bristol "born and bred" sums me up," he says. "I will always be a Bristolian first and a politician second, so yes I hope that really does make a difference when voters come to make their choice."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, those with less in the way of a Bristolian heritage seem to feel it is less significant.
Daniella Radice, Green Party candidate, says: "I don't think it will make a difference because Bristol is a city full of people from diverse backgrounds.
"It is a city characterised by liveliness, friendliness and the welcome it gives to newcomers. Indeed two Bristol heroes, Brunel and John Cabot were born in Portsmouth and Venice respectively.
"I was born elsewhere, I've lived in Bristol for 10 years and my children are Bristolians, so I understand all perspectives."
Jon Rogers, Liberal Democrat candidate, who came to Bristol as a student, says "Where a person was born is far less important than who a person is. Everyone should feel welcome in Bristol irrespective of their place of birth.
"Every candidate for Bristol mayor should be judged on their skills, their experience, their approach and their character. Bristol needs the best person for the job."
George Ferguson says: "It's going to mean more to the people of Bristol that their elected mayor has a proven track record of achievement, than what postcode they happened to be born in.
"I have lived and worked in Bristol for 47 years – longer than some of the other candidates who were born here but went away, and in that time I've created hundreds of new jobs, helped bring tens of millions of pounds of investment to the city, helped save much of the city from destructive planning and sparked the regeneration of thriving communities.
"My passion for and understanding of the city is as deep as anyone who was born here.
"Surely what matters most is that the elected mayor is the one best able to do the job from day one and who has a passion for Bristol.
"The ability to create lasting positive change has to be a much more important measure of a candidate's worth than their chance place of birth."My dad was in the military serving at home and abroad – so I was of no fixed abode before arriving in Bristol as my chosen university. I have made Bristol my life, raised my family here, and shall continue to make it a better place for all."
Independent Tom Baldwin says: "I'm originally from Trowbridge but I've lived in Bristol for the last 11 years. I don't think where candidates were born will be a big factor in the election – most people are more concerned about what they're offering Bristolians.
"Most important for me is whether they'll be standing up for the people of this city and the services we rely upon as I've pledged to do, or whether they will be doing the bidding of the ConDem government by passing on cuts."
Fellow independent Owain George, the 43-year-old Clifton businessman who owns The Albion pub, was born in Newport and went to school in Monmouth – he's lived in Bristol for eight years.
"If I tell you I was born in Wales I'll be lucky to get a single vote here in Bristol," he says.
Dave Dobbs, who is from Lewes in Sussex, tells me it shouldn't make a difference where he comes from, while Knowle West-born Tony Britt – who peppers his speech with Bristolian idiosyncrasies, such as "ideal" instead of "idea" – is determined his strong Bristolian roots will make a big difference to the number of votes he receives.
"I certainly hope Bristolians will vote for me because I'm one of them," he says.
Another independent candidate, Philip Pover, says: "It seems it matters not so much whether I was born here but whether I've been here for some years, which I have – 30 years, in fact.
"I think Bristolians would be wary of someone who has been here only a handful of years but wants to determine how Bristol changes over the next four years.
" I don't feel any particular stigma at not having been born here – not least because I had no control over that."