I don't know if Goldsmith is fishing for complements and plaudits. "Oh, he's so, so principled" will come the leader writers of the Tory petit bourgeois. I'm happy to agree that another runway is more than unhelpful where our emission targets are concerned. And from an economic standpoint, throwing down yet more air infrastructure while the existing connectivity leaves a great deal to be desired seems neither wise, nor in line with the Tory aspiration to rebalance the economy away from London and the South East. However, progressive and socialist objections to the development are about enhancing the environment for the enjoyment and enrichment of human beings which, in this case, necessarily means opposing more pollution, more noise, and more congestion. Goldsmith may also believe thunder over Richmond should come from too frequent storm clouds as opposed to additional jet engines, but his greenery is ultimately misanthropic and backward looking. A conservationism in which a reified environment comes before the people who inhabit it and give it meaning, small wonder his "principled politics" happily coexisted with the nudge, nudge racism of the London mayoral campaign.
But let's be serious here. Everything about the coming by-election reeks of a gentlemanly understanding, the sort accompanied by funny handshakes and weird winking. Having made a song and dance about resigning should Heathrow get the go ahead, it was impossible for Goldsmith to find a face saving way out. However, as the Tories aren't putting up against him in practice it will mean very little, assuming he wins the by-election. The government's majority drops by one, but over on the opposition benches there's little reason to believe Theresa May won't find a supplicant happy to go along with the rest of her programme. And then, 18 months to two years down the line, she gives her overrated grand narrative a splash of green and Zac will come back to the fold.
That assumes he can retain the constituency. As Stephen Bush observes, on first glance Richmond looks like a super safe Tory seat. But it scored below the Tory London average during the mayoral contest, suggesting there isn't as much of a personal vote as one might suppose. This might have something to do with Richmond being one of the Tories' most liberal seats. It wouldn't have appreciated their MP's dog whistling Islamophobia, nor the love he gave Leave while the borough voted Remain. Furthermore, it was as recent as 2005 that Susan Kramer held the seat for the LibDems with a seven point advantage over the Tories. Reduced to under 20% in 2015, there is a good chance they could come surging back - especially as they too oppose the third runway. No doubt they'll crank up the battered by-election machinery deployed to excellent effect in Witney, but will the Tories mobilise for their unofficial candidate?