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#WolmarforRichmond: Opponents struggle at the first HACAN hustings

Christian Wolmar

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The first hustings last night at Duke Street Church was a lively affair with some 200 people attending. The organisers, HACAN, the anti Heathrow expansion campaign, wanted to restrict questions to aviation issues but inevitably many others were raised.

Zac Goldsmith claimed that the by-election should be considered as a referendum on the Heathrow issue but this is a nonsense.

First of all, virtually all Richmond residents are already opposed to expansion, as was revealed in a referendum three years ago. Secondly, this is a by-election to elect a member of parliament, and it is not up to one of the candidates to define what are the issues.

Indeed, as I wrote yesterday, the big issue on the doorstep is Brexit and inevitably that came up as an issue. I pointed out the link between the vote for Brexit and the decision over Heathrow given that it was imperative for Theresa May to trot out the hoary old line that ‘Britain was open for business’. Zac Goldsmith was clearly uncomfortable discussing the issue and claimed he had not campaigned for Leave, though admitting he had voted for it.

His claim that he would be the best MP to continue the fight against Heathrow expansion also looked weak. As I mentioned in my speech, he would either simply rejoin the Tories – which he denied he would do – or he would be a lone ‘Independent’ with no influence. Goldsmith’s worst moment was when he said he would be re-elected to the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee which is by no means certain or even likely. As a one man band in Parliament, with no party machine behind him, he could find the Commons a rather lonely place.

Goldsmith has said he resigned from the Tory party as well as from his seat, but that is rather belied by the fact that so many of those canvassing for him are Conservatives. Most controversially, Jacob Rees-Mogg has even been to Richmond knocking on doors for the playboy politician, and Goldsmith found it difficult to defend the fact that someone so adamantly in favour of Heathrow was supporting him.

As for the Liberals, Sarah Olney struggled when Goldsmith read out part of a blog she had written praising Theresa May, which has now been deleted. She also came under fire when it emerged that the Coalition government, of which the LibDems were part, could have ensured that the Heathrow option was not considered by the Airports Commission. Instead, its terms of reference were signed off by LibDem Cabinet members such as Vince Cable.

I was the only candidate who stressed that airport expansion seems incompatible with our climate change obligations and that the Heathrow option is likely to be undeliverable given the cost and the expected requirement on public money to improve transport links. The fight continues.

Given that the positions on Heathrow were well established, I suspect that the second HACAN hustings, at Tiffin School in Kingston on November 23rd 7pm will cover wider territory.

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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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