Published on 26 Oct 2016

Can Zac Goldsmith hold back Lib Dems?

I’m on the mean streets of Richmond. It’s a blizzard of hessian book bags. This is the most qualified electorate in the country – 64 per cent of the voters here have degrees. Somewhere around 70 per cent voted to Remain in the EU.

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Zac Goldsmith left his resignation too late for the Government to move the by-election writ today. They’re expected to move it tomorrow. The logic is always that when you want to stop the chances of an insurgent candidate you move it quickly and keep the timeframe as short as possible. I hear that could mean 1 December is the date for the vote.

Tim Farron has wasted no time in getting down here. The Lib Dem leaflets are already printed. They will argue that a Lib Dem vote is the only way to truly pressurise the Government on Heathrow – the Tories only held to their promise against a third runway, their argument runs, when the Lib Dems were in coalition with them.

But they’re making no bones about making this about Europe too. Tim Farron argues that the voters who supported Brexit didn’t want to come out of the Single Market (not quite sure how he’s divined that). Voting Lib Dem, he argues, will tug the Government back towards Single Market membership.

Zac Goldsmith’s campaign literature will say that a Lib Dem vote is a vote for Heathrow. When I bumped into him I asked why, if he’s such a threat to Theresa May’s Heathrow project, was she supporting him? He insists she isn’t and that the Tory leader simply realised she couldn’t take on the might of a unified local Conservative association that backs Zac Goldsmith’s tactics.

Senior Lib Dems think the bookies may have over-stated their chances of winning here. They need the same swing they got in Witney to draw level. But in Witney they had a few weeks campaigning with no Tory opponent or rival campaign. It was “like pushing at a broken barn door,” one senior Lib Dem said. Richmond Park, they think, will be harder, with a campaign already up and running for Zac Goldsmith and with him being a much higher profile individual than the Witney candidate.

There was irritation in senior Labour circles about three Labour MPs urging their own party not to stand a candidate in Richmond Park. Jonathan Reynolds, Lisa Nandy and Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis were an interesting alliance of names making the push.  The leadership is not taking up their suggestion and displeasure has been conveyed.

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