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19 August 2015

Could Christian Wolmar repeat Jeremy Corbyn’s success?

Could Christian Wolmar surprise the pundits and spring a shock in the mayoral race?

By Harry Conrad Cockburn

If there’s one thing that the screaming hordes of people signing up to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership race has proved, it’s that they couldn’t give an airborne turd what Labour Party grandees think of their favourite candidate.

Some of Britain’s most popular men of all time, including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Alistair Campbell have all lashed out at Corbyn, while newspapers have practically browned themselves over the chance to shriek at this bearded lunatic trying to kill us all, devoting reams to his so-called “unelectibility”.

Despite the onslaught, Corbyn’s lead in the polls remains intact.

Should this worry those leading Labour’s mayoral race?

Londoners who have signed up to vote in the Labour leadership will also be able to vote for the party’s mayoral candidate. As the left-wingers have poured in to back Corbyn, could the current frontrunner and Blairite, Tessa Jowell, be rudely knocked off the top spot?

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Jowell may have the party machine behind her, but if the polls are even remotely accurate, then the party is currently displaying minimal control over voting behaviour.

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This presents a unique and tantalising opportunity for many Londoners bored to tears with the merry-go-round of the same old politicians – a complete overhaul of the faces at the top of the party.

One reason Corbyn has attracted so much support is for having a policy programme that is obviously different from his competitors. Another is that he himself is obviously different from his competitors. People like that.

Meanwhile, in the mayoral race, a parallel battle is underway. While party lifers like Jowell, David Lammy, Sadiq Khan and Diane Abbot have all focused strongly on housing and equality, the outsider and the party’s greenest candidate, Christian Wolmar, points out that 70 per cent of the mayor’s responsibility is in transport.

But unlike Corbyn, Wolmar hasn’t enjoyed the same poll-overhauling attention in the press.

Nonetheless, he believes that he stands to pick up a considerable amount of support from Corbyn’s voters.

“It’s very open as to where his votes will go,” Wolmar tells me, “and I think a lot will come my way, so I might get helped a lot by the Corbyn voters coming along and then saying ‘there’s this guy who’s also a bit of an outsider who’s running for mayor’.

“There’s a big, hidden vote for us out there that’ll come out. Just the number of tweets and the number of people who come up to me and say, ‘I’ll vote for you’, and the support I’ve had at the hustings shows that there is something of a bandwagon.”

But he believes Jowell will still prove to be stiff competition.

“She’ll probably get the most first preference votes, but it’s then that it’ll get interesting. There’ll be a big contest to get down to the last two, and that’s where she’s vulnerable because I don’t think many people will put Tessa down as their second choice.”

However, Wolmar thinks Jowell’s support for a third runway at Heathrow could be her undoing. When Labour’s candidate is pitted against the Tories’ only serious contender, Zac Goldsmith, who opposes the airport’s expansion, it could become a decisive issue.

“I don’t think that somebody can win supporting a third runway,” Wolmar says. “Londoners just don’t want that level of over-flight and air pollution.”

When the ballot papers roll back in, it would be a surprise if Wolmar has done enough to convince large numbers of voters to support him, but it’s not impossible. And with the peculiar state Labour is in, it feels like anything could happen.