Stephen Greenhalgh is nothing if not gutsy. When the deputy mayor announced he would cut Tube fares by three per cent a year to launch his bid to succeed Boris Johnson at City Hall, he ruffled feathers among his Tory colleagues.
Now, days after outgoing Transport for London chief Sir Peter Hendy explicitly warned that such a move could put services at risk, the former council boss is challenging his rivals in the mayoral race to match his pledge.
“I can deliver it as mayor in the same way as I cut council tax year on year, when they said it wasn’t possible,” Mr Greenhalgh insists.
“You can’t have Londoners continuing to pay through the nose for the most expensive Tube system in the world. A challenge for a future mayor is to give that fare cut but to continue that investment. I believe it can be done.”
Mr Greenhalgh, 47, is running as the candidate of experience. After studying at St Paul’s and Cambridge, he joined the corporate sector, before setting up a medical publishing firm. From 2006 he ran Hammersmith and Fulham council — where he was feted and despised in equal measure — before joining City Hall in 2012 to oversee the Met.
He got off to a bumpy start — “I had just four days to prepare for the job” — but on his watch crime has continued to fall overall. However, there have been rises in areas including violence against women and knife crime.
Last week he was embroiled in the water cannon row, after Home Secretary Theresa May banned Mr Johnson from using three machines bought for £218,000 on Mr Greenhalgh’s watch.
The deputy mayor has also overseen £600 million of cuts in his time in charge of London policing but insists: “I’m not just a cost-cutter.”
He adds: “There are people on very low incomes and they do need support. But those people want to get on in life.
“I believe in the hand-up, I’ve never believed in the hand-out. You can never create an equal London but the city can be a great engine of opportunity.”
Mr Greenhalgh shrugs off the suggestion Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, will be hard to beat. “He’s the frontrunner. But not all races end with frontrunners at the finishing tape. There’s a long way to go and I’m in it to win it,” he says.
“I feel I’ve done my apprenticeship. It would be a seamless transition to have somebody that has run a town hall and worked at City Hall.”
He admits it will be a “tough job” for the Tories to hold on to the mayoralty. But he believes he can beat any of the Labour line-up, which includes Dame Tessa Jowell and Sadiq Khan.
“Sadiq is much more like Ken [Livingstone] in that machine-like ability,” he says. “Tessa has a huge amount of charisma, I like her an awful lot and think she’s in politics for all the right reasons. But they’re both beatable.
“In 2006 no one believed we could take [Hammersmith and Fulham council] … I have a clear record of beating Labour in their own back yard.”
He is a family man, with three children, but is aware of the publicity that can come with the job. In 2012, he apologised for allegedly patting a female colleague’s bottom, although no formal complaint was made.
“Any mayor needs to be prepared for public scrutiny, it’s a high-profile public office and my family are all incredibly supportive,” he says.
Mr Greenhalgh, who was 22 stone at his heaviest, meets a personal trainer every day and has already lost more than four stone. “You’ve got to be physically fit to be mayor,” he says. “I’m going into this race knowing I’m the underdog but I hope people will understand I’ve got a lot to offer.”