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 and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
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My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.