Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Zac Goldsmith's By-Election Stunt

We have by-elections arising from tragedy. We have by-elections arising out of farce. Zac Goldsmith's decision today to resign his Richmond Park seat in protest against the government's decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow falls firmly in the latter category. This gesture will see him defend his seat as an independent while the Tory party proper have declared they won't be running.

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?


Strategist said...

If the Libs run Vince Cable, they could win

asquith said...

What's a stunt about it? Zac has taken his stand and I agree with him, which is more than can be said for the allegedly "moderate" Blairites who couldn't give a turd for the environment. If anyone imagines it's a good idea, let them put the argument before the folk of Richmond and see what happens to them.

Zac has made mistakes but I think he regrets going down the Lynton Crosby road and will now atone for his past sins, isn't that a good thing? The fact is, he can count on my support. Too many people, definitely including "progressives", don't take the environment seriously but I do and I endorse anyone that dies.

The fact is, as an environmentalist and a liberal, I welcome the contributions made by liberals, socialists and conservatives. Meaningful environmental action requires the support of the "right" and we need Zac to make his stand in support of that.

It isn't on Maggie May's agenda but her "opponents" rareky mention it either, rather than carping from the sidelines we need serious people to get involved.

Ed said...

He regrets going down the Crosby road because it was a total failure, and ended up making his defeat more ignominious than it would otherwise have been. If it had given him the mayoralty I don’t think we would be hearing any regrets. I also wouldn’t describe it as ‘nudge, nudge’; more like a bloke thumping you in the arm and saying ‘you see, you see?’

Lidl_Janus said...

"and I endorse anyone that dies."

You'll never get a Lib Dem government that way, Asquith.

asquith said...

The perils of drunkenly typing on an ipad!

Blissex said...

«the Tory aspiration to rebalance the economy away from London and the South East»

That's the Conservative *talk* about rebalancing. It is George Osborne's idea: to talk about investing money in the north, to talk up the price of property in the north, because he understands very well that people who enjoy tax-free effort-free capital gains vote Conservative.
If his mere talk about investing in the north starts a speculative property boomlet in the north, he gets a lot of new Conservative voters for the effort of making just a few speeches and maybe a couple of fancy white papers. The Conservatives don't have any money to actually spend on the north, because the overriding necessity is to spend whatever it takes to keep property prices up in the south, or else the City goes bust again.

Some context:

«His Chancellor and chief political strategist, George Osborne, is constantly looking for new ways to create Tory voters.»
«“Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up,” George Osborne is said to have quipped at a Cabinet meeting earlier this year.»