CHRISTIAN WOLMAR is a journalist’s journalist: the one the others go to when they need expert help with a transport story.
Now he wants to be the go-to guy for London, and is the only announced contender for the London mayoral title who has even a chance of winning in 2016.
First, he wants the backing of the Labour Party. To get that, he will have to take on a bunch of people who know how the party machine works, as well as a few non-party one-offs such as Baroness Lawrence. Wolmar’s political experience amounts to little more than holding posts in the National Union of Journalists.
Yet he’s made a good start. Being first has given him a clear run at publicity in newspapers and broadcast media. He has made the most of the non-declarations of potential rivals, even riding his Claud Butler, above, from his Islington home to E8 to tell Loving Dalston what he could do for Hackney.
Wolmar, 64, says his campaign is based on trying to build a “more affordable, liveable and sustainable London”.
He explains: “One key goal of the campaign in areas such as Hackney, where Londoners live and socialise, is to try to make these places more ‘liveable’.
“The importance of liveability is often overlooked but it is vital to get right if people are to live healthy and enjoyable lives and London is to retain its cachet as a leading cultural hub, tourist destination and a desirable place to live.”
Small, low-cost projects could often have a big effect on the look and feel of a place.
His plans involved “opening up public spaces, pedestrianising recreational and commercial areas, providing resources for community projects, enabling people to play a direct role in shaping their neighbourhoods, reducing car use and improving public transport and infrastructure for walking”.
All very vague and safe, which is how he plays it when he makes the tiniest of criticisms of the just-re-elected Labour regime in this borough.
Wolmar says: “Hackney has made some strong progress in these areas. However, there is still much to be done.”
He talks of “great examples” from cities around the world of “exciting projects that are low-cost but transformative”. He would follow a model using temporary and experimental measures that could be removed if they did not work, “keeping costs low but ensuring immediate impact”.
Of the other Labour possibles – Lord Adonis, Margaret Hodge, Tessa Jowell, David Lammy, Diane Abbott and Sadiq Khan – only the last two have anything like charisma.
That hard-to-define quality may be a big factor: the present occupant of the best office in City Hall, like Wolmar a freelance journalist but a more famous cyclist-about-town, is lately suggesting that he wants to keep parking his bike on the south side of the Thames for a few years yet.
Whoever Labour selects will need a devilishly clever strategy to defeat the puzzlingly popular Boris Johnson.
David Altheer 260514
* Christian Wolmar will host a conference, Ideas for London, at The Exchange, 28 London Bridge Street, Borough SE1 9SG, on 14 June 2014 at 10am. Free.
* Update: Tottenham MP Lammy has declared his candidature.