Christian Wolmar is standing as a candidate in Labour's mayoral race. Photo: Getty Images
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Will Self endorses Christian Wolmar to be Labour's candidate for Mayor of London

Will Self, the respected novelist and NS contributor, has backed Christian Wolmar's bid for the London mayoralty.

Will Self has endorsed Christian Wolmar's bid for Labour's mayoral nomination in an open letter to the New Statesman

The respected author, whose 2012 work, Umbrella, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, praises the transport expert, who Self has known for "over thirty years". He describes Wolmar as "one of the foremost experts on London’s transport infrastructure – if not the foremost", and lauds him as  "a principled and honest man without a scintilla of vanity, pride, self-righteousness or narcissism". 

Revealing his hope that a Wolmar victory would prevent the London mayoralty becoming "just another political football on the Westminster pitch", Self describes him as "the ideal incumbent", both for London's straitened finances and to lobby for further powers for City Hall.

Self, who is not a Labour member, says he has registered as a £3 supporter purely to vote for Wolmar. The longshot candidate for Mayor - who faces heavyweight opposition in the shape of Tessa Jowell, David Lammy, Sadiq Khan and Diane Abbott - is a respected member of the cycling community, and is attempting to recruit 10,000 cyclists to assist his shot at the nomination.

 

The full letter is below:

 

To Whom it May Concern:

I wish it to be known that I unequivocally support Christian Wolmar’s campaign to become the Labour mayoral candidate in the forthcoming election. I have indeed registered as a Labour Party supporter purely in order to be able to take part in the selection process. I’ve known Christian as a colleague for over thirty years – at a personal level he has always struck me as a principled and honest man without a scintilla of vanity, pride, self-righteousness or narcissism (the besetting character flaws of the career politician).

Professionally, Christian is one of the foremost experts on London’s transport infrastructure – if not the foremost. Over decades, in a myriad of articles, media appearances and several books he has calmly catalogued the transport history of the capital, and suggested ways its current operation and ownership can be modified in order to fulfil ever-burgeoning demand in an equitable and affordable manner. In his courageous writing on rail and tube privatisation he has consistently exposed the flaws in the neoliberal argument that public ownership always entails inefficiency.

My belief is that if you want to understand local politics in Britain (or any other polity for that matter), follow the money. The effective tax revenue base for the London Mayoralty and the GLA is, once Transport for London revenues are set to one side, pitifully small compared to that of other metropolitan administrations worldwide. The purse-strings relating to London’s governance remain tightly in the hands of Westminster politicians. As things stand, with a few concessions such as the power to overrule planning decisions (which both the current and previous mayors have conspicuously abused), and to grandstand on ‘security issues’ via its oversight of the Metropolitan Police, the mayoral post remains essentially a lopsided combination of glorified transport manager and international marketing executive for ‘London plc’.

The justness of a Wolmar mayoralty will be that Christian is both the ideal incumbent for the current fiscal dispensation, and the perfect person to push the mayoralty in the direction of greater power commensurate with its democratic mandate. I believe his status as a relative political outsider will prevent the mayoralty from becoming – still more than it already is – just another political football on the Westminster pitch. Unlike other potential Labour candidates for the post, Christian doesn’t have to live-down previous debacles – such as the woeful ‘legacy’ of the Olympic Games – nor is he shackled by expedient alliances.

We need a London mayor who has a truly socialistic outlook: one which encompasses all Londoners, wherever they may have originated, or where they may live in this great city. We need a London mayor impervious to the blandishments of traditional powerbrokers, and capable of resisting the turbulence occasioned by the international capital flows cascading through the City. In Christian Wolmar I believe Labour – and Londoners in general – have such a candidate.

Yours faithfully,     

 

Will Self

Stockwell, London

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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