Would-be police commissioner speaks out for Merchant Venturers
A POLICE commissioner candidate who is a member of Bristol's Merchant Venturers has spoken out in favour of the society.
John Savage, pictured, the Labour candidate, said it was a "fine body of people who work very hard for the betterment of Bristol".
His comments follow an open letter from Massive Attack's lead singer Robert Del Naja who has questioned mayoral candidate George Ferguson's membership of the society.
Mr Del Naja, who lives in Bristol, said he was considering voting for Mr Ferguson but asked whether he could call himself an independent candidate when he was a member of an "exclusive club".
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He also refers to the society's past links with the slave trade and wonders whether as a member, it was the best way to represent Bristol on the global stage.
Mr Ferguson has responded to Mr Del Naja by saying that if elected, he would immediately end his membership.
He added that nowadays, the society was a charitable organisation which carried out an "extraordinary amount of good for Bristol's elderly, youth and education".
He had never engaged in any business conversations "of any substance" at any meetings of the society.
Dr Savage, who is is executive chairman of Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative and former chairman of BristolWest which represents more than 6,000 firms in the west country, said he was probably the only Socialist member of the society.
He saw no reason why he should not be helping to use its resources to improve education in the city and help the elderly.
Dr Savage said: "I was a signatory several years ago to a declaration in which we regretted the things of the past.
"I was quite certain, however, that I could not personally apologise or ask other people to do so for the sins of our past.
"We can regret it deeply and I do regret it but anyone who attacks the Merchant Venturers has a grave misunderstanding about what we are about.
"It is a fine body of people who work very hard for Bristol.
"Whenever this question is raised with me, I always ask myself, 'Why should I not want to be able to use the society's resources for the betterment of the people of Bristol' – that is the society's aim in life."
Dr Savage, who was awarded a CBE in 2006 and a former High Sheriff of Bristol, said he had no intention of stepping down from the society if he was elected as police commissioner on November 15.
He said: "It would be cutting off my nose and Bristol's nose in spite of our face.
"It's a fine body which does good work. The past is regrettable but none of us were involved in the slave trade.
"The curse of being British is that we steer the ship by looking backwards instead of looking to the front.
"The challenges of today are enormous and we need to work together and use all the resources that we can."
Dr Savage became Labour's candidate after Bob Ashford stepped down because of a conviction for a minor crime more than 40 years ago which would have made him ineligible to hold the post.