by Jaya Chakrabarti and Tony Crofts / 15 Nov 2012
This article is from the November 2012 issue of Total Politics magazine
Following the UK’s only ‘yes’ vote for an elected mayor, the ‘yes’ vote team in Bristol has decided to launch an experimental survey of ordinary people’s wishes for their city, in order to put together a key set of policies to present to all the candidates at a forthcoming series of hustings. The ulterior motive behind the poll is to create a living, breathing manifesto that evolves as Bristol evolves. And as the project progresses, residents will be able to go back and change their three wishes as these are either granted or become less relevant to their lives.
This type of engagement has only been possible in recent years through the creation of the right analytical software. Using both an online resource and hard-copy forms, the Three Wishes for Bristol campaign is aiming to encourage Bristol’s constituents to clarify what they want for their city, no matter what their level of internet access and skill. Answers will be compiled into categories through keyword recognition.
Allied to no political party or candidate, the project’s aim is to make democracy work by getting a mayor who can break the party deadlock and shift obstructive officers who frequently prevent decisions from being made and carried out, a mayor who does what the people want, who listens and involves citizens before decisions are set in stone, instead of merely handing them down, cut and dried, from above. Critically, the survey extends beyond the core city boundaries because the team recognises that the success of their metropolis affects and is affected by people who live beyond those boundaries. It’s also reaching into schools to engage the next generation of voters. Over the next six months, it intends to create the most comprehensive accumulation of desires of any major world city.
The big issue that stands out so far is transport. There is a strong desire for a workable, cheaper transport system that will help citizens get around the city without facing the appalling congestion that at present often gridlocks it; this would greatly assist businesses. The secondary hope is that people can be more involved in decision-making, while a third pinpoints the need to improve and dynamise small businesses in all areas. Education and environment also come high on the list.
Energy efficiency, tourism and leisure, healthcare and equality and social cohesion feature too, but these are less pressing concerns. Bristol is a medium-sized conurbation, about the same size as Helsinki, and it should be easy to find whatever you need there. Helsinki, however, has an efficient citywide tram system, and easy walking. Bristol is still struggling to provide complete bus lanes, proper-width cycle lanes and a well-integrated transport system. Currently, buses are not timetabled to meet trains, there’s no travel facility from high-load points such as Portishead, and no relationship between Bristol services and those out in the counties. Try to get from Oxford to Bristol by bus, and it takes four hours, including an hour wasted in Cheltenham.
Added to this, parking requirements reduce many streets to one-way, and there’s no incentive for motorists to abandon car use in the way that has been prioritised in Denmark and Holland. Cycling is still dangerous and unattractive in many places. The Floating Harbour ought to provide a ready link right across the city, but it doesn’t.
All of this suggests that there is a lot for the new mayor to think about and get to grips with to make our city a place that’s really fit to live in. Bristol Manifesto will shortly be producing a leaflet – with freepost return to make public response easier and faster – but in the meantime, those who want to or can are able to submit their three wishes at www.bristolmanifesto.org.
During their campaign to help achieve the controversial ‘yes’ vote, Bristol Manifesto forged strong links across all parties, including with a number of the candidates who are now standing for both mayor and police crime commissioner. Marvin Rees (Labour candidate), Abdul Malik (Lib Dem), Kelvin Blake (Labour) and others who were considering standing campaigned alongside the team in their push to inform the Bristol citizens about the referendum, and the pros of changing the leadership model.
Geoff Gollop, Conservative mayoral candidate, said, “I congratulate the Bristol Manifesto on the work they are doing to engage more people in the election process. A key part of the mayor’s job is listening, and I look forward to hearing your wish list.”
Prominent independent candidate George Ferguson, added, “I am in strong support of the Bristol Manifesto as an invaluable guide to the new mayor and cabinet as to the principal wishes of the people of Bristol. It kicks off a process of public involvement that I would wish to continue throughout my term of office.”
Daniella Radice, Green candidate and currently the only female, said, “I’ll be very interested to see what the citizens of Bristol and its surrounding area wish for. As a candidate with a strong vision of how I see the city, I’ve already published a manifesto: A Manifesto for a Fairer Bristol. My vision for Bristol as an inclusive city puts a high priority on letting people’s voices be heard, particularly those who are less articulate, and don’t always have ready access to the internet.”
So where did the idea come from? A city manifesto is an idea that has now arrived. It was referred to by Dave Hill in The Guardian in March this year, and by Beth Noveck, formerly of the White House, in a recent TED talk, as well as by Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard University, who in May 2012 addressed ORGCon in Westminster on how democracy is broken, and how to fix it. At the same time, several people on the ‘Mayor for Bristol’ Facebook site were chatting about what a good idea it was.
As long ago as 2008, Dave Harvey of the BBC ran a campaign asking for people to submit photos showing the best and the worst of Bristol to the then new CEO, Jan Ormondroyd, which was hugely successful, yet incredibly simple. Three Wishes was used in Stroud, Gloucestershire, all the way back in the 1980s. The Bristol Accord, on which the campaign is partly based, was devised by Sir John Egan in 2005.
These days, the technology of message dissemination has improved, and for the first time in history people can be in constant touch. So now, these ideas can be put into practice on a citywide scale for the first time, here in Bristol. Using the power of digital crowdsourcing and the connectedness of social networks, we can ask every single person in Bristol what their views are on how our city should be run. We can gather and quickly analyse the views, and present them to civic leaders.
The result will change things, and Bristol is leading the way.
Jaya Chakrabarti and Tony Crofts are co-founders of the Bristol Manifesto Group