My interest in becoming mayor has arisen directly from my work writing about transport. I am a Londoner who has lived and worked there all my life, apart from a spell at university, and over the past 20 years I have developed a passion about the failings of the transport system and the need for radical changes.
After graduating in economics from Warwick University, I worked as a journalist for a variety of publications including the Hampstead & Highgate Express but then had spells working for two charities, Release, the drugs agency, and Shelter, the housing campaign. There I developed an interest in housing and local government and went on to write about them for several publications including the New Statesman, The Observer and The Independent. I wrote extensively about housing issues and won a couple of awards for my coverage of a council corruption case in the West country.
It was at The Independent, however, that I became interested in transport. I was made transport correspondent in 1992, just as the Tory government started privatisating the railways and covered the story over the next five years, exposing the scandalous nature of the sale and writing a series of comment pieces about the cost to the country. It was such a misguided and damaging policy that even today still makes me angry because of the dishonest arguments used to justify it and the chaos and cost that resulted.
As a result, I wrote a book about the privatisation, Broken Rails, the only detailed account of the scandal and which has subsequently been updated as On the wrong line. From the interest which resulted from that, I wrote Down the Tube about the equally crazy semi-privatisation of the London Undergound, the Public Private Partnership, sadly imposed by a Labour government but which has now, thankfully, collapsed with the system reverting to full public ownership.
By then I had become a freelance working for a very wide range of publications including the Evening Standard and The Times and also appearing regularly on TV and radio as a commentator on transport matters. I have embarked on writing a series of history books on the railways, starting with The Subterranean Railway, the history of the London Underground. Subsequently I have written histories of Britain’s railways, the role of railways in wartime and American railroads. I have learnt a lot from writing these books, notably that the lessons of history are so often forgotten. It is remarkable that many of the political debates in the 19th century over matters such as the need for railways or the structure of their ownership are still raging today.
I have been a member of the Labour party for most of my adult life, apart from a period when I left in protest at the Iraq war and also belong to the National Union of Journalists where, over the years, I have held a variety of posts including Father of the Chapel at the ill-fated London Daily News. I also currently write a column in TSSA’s magazine.
I was a board member of Cycling England until the ridiculous decision taken by the Coalition to abolish it in the spring of 2011 and am now a board member of the London Cycling Campaign. I have been a trustee of the Railway Children charity since its creation in 1995, and have written a book, Forgotten Children, on the causes of the abuse scandals in children’s homes of the 1970s and 1980s.
I speak frequently at conferences and often chair them. I have toured both Germany and Holland, giving talks, and have twice been invited to give presentations in Australia, once on rail privatisation and the other time on how to encourage cycling.
I play tennis and cricket badly, run 5k and 10k races and I use my bicycle as the main way of getting round London. My biggest failing is my long time support for QPR where I am a season ticket holder.