For an insight into the Labour Group in the 1950’s there can be no better source than the following film: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-bristol-fashion-1959-online
During the 1970’s Claude Draper was Group and Council Leader. He can be heard giving some recollections of the post-war years and his 60 years in the Co-op movement in this audio recording: http://museums.bristol.gov.uk/narratives.php?irn=13532
Graham Robertson was Group and Council Leader in the 1980’s, George Micklewright was Secretary, Brian Richards was Group Chair and the Whip was Doug Naismith. George has left a quantity of his papers covering the 1980’s and 90’s in the Bristol Archive, Ref. No. 41960/1. Bristol City Council had a committee system (with Chairs) till 2000 then a cabinet member system. When the cabinet system was introduced it wasn’t popular with many councillors. The committee system didn’t necessarily allow backbenchers to be particularly influential as committee chairs were very powerful by virtue of their level of contact with officers. The Policy and Resources Committee oversaw all other committees and acted somewhat like a cabinet. It even had a Docks and Airport sub-committee!
Graham chaired the Policy and Resources Committee and is remembered as a ‘wheeler-dealer’ who was a traditional municipal socialist not much at home with a modern, community-based approach. He had a favourite saying taken from bridge, ‘If I was bluffing on a pair of twos’, and broke the rules by smoking in his office – he was after all an official of the tobacco workers’ union. In those days many Labour councillors came from union backgrounds – at one point three councillors were also bus drivers! Graham’s leadership style was very directional and committee members expected to be whipped, but perhaps the fact that many were union officials meant that collectivism was understood. A young Helen Holland stood against Graham in the 1996 AGM and lost, however Graham stood down the following year and George Micklewright took over as Group Leader. George is described as someone who kept his cards close to his chest and as a visionary rather than a details person. Interestingly he soon chose not to have a Chief Executive. The 80’s and 90’s saw enormous developments in the city centre and Bristol, unlike many local authorities, not only kept what it could of its council housing but continued to invest in it.
One disadvantage of a Group Leader system was that the Lib Dems could target them in a strategy known as ‘decapitation’. George fell victim to this in 2003 when Labour lost its majority in Bristol for the first time in many years; part of a national swing against Labour in local government. Diane Bunyan took over as Group leader but was herself ‘decapitated’ in 2004 to be replaced by Pete Hammond.
In the early 2000’s the bust of Tony Benn in the foyer of the Council House was purchased. It is the work of noted sculptor Ian Walters whose last work before his death was the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square. Helen Holland remembers organising the raising of funds, some from unions.
Helen, having been in Cabinet since 2000, took over as Leader in 2005. The Lib Dems led a cross-party cabinet from 2003 till 2005 when Labour suffered heavy electoral losses after the Iraq war and the Lib Dems won a majority. Labour was not to have a majority again until 2016, when the Party also won the mayoral election. When asked what she was most proud of from her political career Helen named several developments: Queen’s Square, the Portway Park & Ride, Cabot Circus and the Harbourside, as well as On Site apprenticeships (1996), Building Schools For The Future and Legible City.