I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is. Or rather stick my head above the parapet by trying to get the Labour nomination for mayor of London.
It all happened by accident, really. In the run up to this year’s mayoral election, I wrote a piece for the Evening Standard pointing out that neither of the two main candidates in the Boris & Ken show had anything interesting to say about transport. It was all about a little bit more here and there, rather than actually thinking outside the box.
I received quite a large response and the Standard printed a text which said ‘If Wolmar stood for mayor, I would vote for him’. Initially I thought this was a crazy idea but when I discussed it with Deborah, my partner, it became more and more feasible. Why shouldn’t someone from outside the usual circles stand for election?
I have long been a rather inactive Labour party member and with Ken having retired from the fray, the way was open for new blood. I decided to consult with a variety of people inside and outside the party, and was surprised at how open to the idea they all were.
So here I am, bidding for the Labour nomination. But what would I do? As I wrote in my launch manifesto in The Times, I will try to present a vision for what London could look like if it was weaned off the obsession with catering for people in cars. It was timely, therefore, that London has just been the subject of a real-life experiment in changing the way that the transport operates for the Olympics.
There were two principal strategies. First, all the way through, these were presented as the public transport games. There was to be no repeat of the fiasco at Atlanta in 1996 when athletes missed their events because of the transport failings. There was to be no massive car park at Stratford. Instead, there were extra trains, a massive information campaign and injunctions for people to alter their usual travel patterns. Only the Olympic family (what a misnomer) were to travel by car and this was to be along special games lanes. That meant the loss of a sizeable chunk of the road network and yet, despite that, it worked.
That points the way forward. The key bedrock policy must be to have a target to reduce the number of vehicles entering central London and to open up spaces that are currently blighted by them. Parliament Square is a crazy roundabout that makes the central green inaccessible, Park Lane is a dual carriageway linking two traffic jams and Oxford Street a bus park. Close part of Parliament Square, give back to Hyde Park the northbound carriageway, and ban all vehicles from Oxford Street. There many other such examples. Those red and white plastic triangles used to create the Games Lanes could be redeployed to make access easier for cyclists and pedestrians.
Indeed, cyclists are still not given priority even though at times they now form a majority of the traffic. There is a huge latent demand for cycling that would be met by reducing speeds and creating lanes where possible. But a bit of blue paint to create ‘Superhighways’ does not do the trick. Instead we need the type of priority given to cycling in many European countries –both money and road space. Appointing a cycling Tsar might be a good start.
Outer London where alternatives to driving are more difficult to find, could also greatly benefit from a focus on other means of transport such as express buses, orbital cycle routes, more tram systems like the successful Croydon Tramlink and even its cheaper version, trolleybuses provided they are given priority in a way that did not happen in their past incarnation. .
Of course, the popular press is likely to present my views as anti-car. But they are nothing of the sort. They are merely pro-people. To put it theoretically, transport policies have been based ever since the invention of the motor car on the idea of boosting mobility when, in fact, it is access that people want.
There are two main aims behind my candidacy. First, I genuinely want to win. I do think that having outsiders coming into politics with relevant experience would be good for the process. Politics has become unpopular after the various scandals of the past few years but having me a lot of politicians, I think most are – or at least were – had the right motivation. I reckon, too, that my strong ideas about transport, developed after a long time writing about it, would be genuinely useful.
Secondly, though, even if I don’t get the nomination, let alone the mayoralty, at least I will have put the ideas out there. Since I started from the notion that this year’s campaign had all the excitement of a 50p Roman Candle, I hope that at least I will have stirred things up and raised the right issues. And have learnt a lot from talking to people on the stump.
www.wolmarforlondon.co.uk Twitter: @wolmarforlondon