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Local Greens criticise Caroline Lucas over Richmond Park byelection

James Giles

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Leading Green party members within the Richmond Park constituency have condemned Caroline Lucas’s decision to back the Liberal Democrat candidate against Zac Goldsmith in the byelection this week and called on their members to vote for Labour’s Christian Wolmar instead.

Clare Keogh, who stood for the neighbouring Kingston and Surbiton constituency in 2015, and Ryan Coley, the party coordinator for the Kingston Greens, were among those who signed a letter to the Guardian urging Green voters in Richmond Park to reject the Lib Dems because of their “regressive role with the Tories in government”.

The Lib Dem candidate, Sarah Olney, is also an opponent of Heathrow expansion and the party has high hopes of beating Goldsmith on a pro-EU platform, given that Goldsmith backed Brexit in a constituency with one of the highest remain votes in the country. The Conservatives are not putting up a candidate and Ukip has backed Goldsmith.

Lucas visited Richmond Park over the weekend to campaign with Olney. “This is no normal byelection,” she said. “The local Green party has stepped up at this unique moment and is backing Sarah Olney as the best hope of beating Zac Goldsmith and denting the government’s plans for a painful Brexit from the European Union.”

Kieron Merrett, a Kingston Green party member who sits on the national executive committee, said the branch had been taken aback by Lucas’s comments. “We reject Caroline Lucas’s endorsement of the Liberal Democrat candidate and encourage local Greens to support the Labour party candidate,” he said.

In their letter, local Greens said they supported the concept of a progressive alliance, but simply endorsing another candidate was not the answer, citing the Lib Dems’ record in coalition with the Conservatives, including the bedroom tax and university tuition fees increase, as well as launching the Airports Commission in 2012, an independent review that eventually supported expanding Heathrow.

“Unfortunately, we have no progressive alliance and no Green party candidate in Richmond Park,” the letter said. “Therefore, although not our first choice, we will be supporting Christian Wolmar, the Labour party candidate, as the best option available. We encourage other local Green supporters to do the same.

“But we note that, just like Caroline’s support for the Liberal Democrat candidate, this is neither a progressive alliance, nor is it the Green party’s democratically approved policy.”

“No one ever said that the new kind of politics would be easy for everyone involved, but hurdles have to be overcome to have the best chance of beating the Tories. The vast majority of people in the local Green parties involved voted to not field a candidate, but some individuals in Kingston Green party never agreed with that decision, a completely legitimate position to take.”

Goldsmith remains favourite to win as an independent, but lines have been blurred throughout the byelection, which takes place on Thursday. The former FA chairman and BBC director general Greg Dyke, who lives in the constituency, has also declared his support for Olney, despite being a former Labour party member.

“We are living in uncharted times, shown by the fact that there is no Conservative candidate in this byelection,” he wrote in a letter to the Guardian. “This is the moment for the people of Richmond Park to forget their normal voting preferences and make it very clear to the government that they still oppose Brexit.”

James Giles is the Editor of the Kingston Enquirer, covering local news and events in Kingston, New Malden, Surbiton, Tolworth and Chessington.

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#RichmondPark

Lib Dems pull off shock victory in Richmond Park by-election as Zac is thrown out

James Giles

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A ‘shockwave to Downing Street’ has, last night, been pulled off by the Liberal Democrats, with Sarah Olney defeating Zac Goldsmith in the Richmond Park by-election.

Lib Dem challenger Ms Olney overturned Mr Goldsmith’s 23,015 majority to win by 1,872 votes. The result saw Ms Olney poll 20,510 votes to Mr Goldsmith’s 18,638, on a turnout of 41,367, or 53.6 per cent. The 21.74 per cent swing to the Lib Dems from Mr Goldsmith topped the 19.3 per cent swing the Lib Dems achieved from the Tories in the Witney by-election.

A Green Party spokesperson said: “The Green Party’s decision to stand down and the huge drop in the Labour Party vote show that people will vote tactically. It proves that there is a huge appetite and a need for proportional representation so that people can express a real preference at elections. In Sarah Olney, we now have an MP who will push for the electoral reform that we so urgently need. We look forward to working with the Liberal Democrats, Women’s Equality Party and the Labour Party in a Progressive Alliance for the 2018 local elections and the next General Election.”

 

Ms Olney said the shock victory was a rejection of the “Ukip vision” of Britain, and the politics of “anger and division”.

In her victory speech, she said: “The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government, and our message is clear: we do not want a hard Brexit. We do not want to be pulled out of the single market, and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win.”

In a brief acknowledgement of the result, a clearly downcast Mr Goldsmith said: “This by-election that we have just had was not a political calculation, it was a promise that I made and it was a promise that I kept.”

Labour’s Christian Wolmar lost his deposit as he trailed a distant third with 1,515 votes, losing 8% of the Labour vote compared to 2015.

A Conservative Party spokesman said the result would make no difference to Brexit plans, stating: “This result doesn’t change anything. The Government remains committed to leaving the European Union and triggering Article 50 by the end of March next year. Commiserations to Zac Goldsmith on his defeat. We are sorry that he is no longer in the House of Commons.”

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “The message is clear: The Liberal Democrats are back and we are carrying the torch for all of those who want a real opposition to this Conservative Brexit government.

“This was a remarkable, come-from-nowhere upset that will terrify the Conservatives. A year and a half ago, their man won by nearly 40% and had a majority of more than 20,000. In one fell swoop we have wiped that out completely.

“If this was a general election, this swing would mean the Conservatives would lose dozens of seats to the Liberal Democrats – and their majority with it.

Mr Wolmar said voters had disliked Mr Goldsmith’s “ghastly, disgusting” bid to be London Mayor in which Labour accused him of running a racist campaign against Sadiq Khan.

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