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Is Mayor a job for the Adventurous?

Rory Stewart wants to be our next Mayor of London – but do adventurers make good leaders?

“His (Ken Livingstone’s) years as an MP were spent in the wilderness.” So claims an article in The Guardian from 2008 shortly following Livingston’s ousting as London’s first Mayor of London. Further research suggests this was a political metaphor and he may never have even stepped on grass.

Rory Stewart is handed a cat somewhere south of Penrith

The position of Mayor of London is not to be confused with Lord Mayor of London of course, which got off to a much wilder start when Richard (Dick) Whittington landed the job in 1397 despite a long and trying journey down from Lancashire with a cat and many a cold night sleeping rough. This is not a true story of course but never let that get in the way of an inspiring tale.

A little bit of research doesn’t reveal much about our other two Mayors to date, Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan. Although Johnson likes an adventure they don’t seem to be the kind we were hoping for. And Khan recently got into a tangle with an insurer who was threatening to withdraw cover from some of our more dangerous adventure playgrounds. Dangerous it was claimed not because of the addition of thrilling and stretching installations for our youth, but because of funding cuts.

Another hopeful, Tory candidate Shaun Bailey, may have lost a few supporters amongst London’s cycling community by suggesting the Embankment Cycle Superhighway should be re-routed to avoid the sense of being ‘pinned against the river’. The river in question is the good old Thames, perhaps the capital’s most striking natural feature.

So when Rory Stewart threw his hat in the ring for the Mayor job, we wondered what it could mean for London if we found ourselves with a Mayor who knew how to lace up a pair of boots?

The Places In Between by Rory Stewart is an account of his walk across Afghanistan in January 2002. The Amazon blurb for the book says:

Caught between hostile nations, warring factions and competing ideologies, at the time Afghanistan was in turmoil following the US invasion. Travelling entirely on foot and following the inaccessible mountainous route once taken by the Mogul Emperor, Babur the Great, Stewart was nearly defeated by the extreme, hostile conditions. Only with the help of an unexpected companion and the generosity of the people he met on the way did he survive to report back with unique insight on a region closed to the world by twenty-four years of war.

A New York Times review from 2006 includes this quoted advice for Stewart from a member of Afghanistan’s Security Service: “You are the first tourist in Afghanistan. It is mid-winter. There are three meters of snow on the high passes, there are wolves, and this is a war. You will die, I can guarantee.”

So Rory was a risk-taker in the mountains and it could be argued has continued to be so in politics – gambling his job against a promise to reform the UK’s worst prisons and recently running as an outsider for Conservative leader being among his punts. Running for Mayor is another massive and high profile roll of the dice.

Is a risk-taker what London needs now? Does it make sense for a world city like London to be led by a Mayor with a taste for adventure and wilderness?

It would be great to think that we had a Mayor of London with one eye on the benefits that far-flung adventures, life-affirming activities and beautiful landscapes could provide to our youth. How that vision can be brought to the city as a positive force for empowerment and change, and whether there is a candidate out there willing to give it a go, remains to be seen.

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