It was hard to miss the fall out over the Government’s decision to give Heathrow the go-ahead for its third runway yesterday. After years of campaigning and indecision on whether Heathrow or Gatwick would be granted permission to expand, this was big news!
The biggest reaction to the decision was that of Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Richmond Park and former London Mayoral Candidate. So opposed was he to Heathrow’s expansion that even before yesterday’s decision, he announced that if Heathrow was to receive the Government’s backing, he would resign his seat which sits under the airport’s flight path and force a by-election, in which he would run as an independent candidate. True to his word, yesterday he announced his resignation, and while a date is yet to be set for the by-election (it’s likely to be in December), the campaigning is beginning in earnest.
On the surface, this looks like a smart move on Goldsmith’s part. He is hugely popular in his constituency with a significant majority of 23,015, after enjoying the largest increase in majority (18,924) of any MP last year, and he is standing his ground and clearly protesting against the Government on behalf of his constituents. Even better news for him was the Conservatives’ announcement that they will not be putting up a candidate for the by-election – so it looks like the path is clear for him.
Or is it?
The Liberal Democrats, who were so badly wounded in last year’s election, are on the up, and it will be their candidate, Sarah Olney, who will be the biggest threat to Goldsmith’s campaign.
Indeed, the Lib Dems held the Richmond Park seat until 2010, and they are currently riding high on the back of last week’s Witney by-election when they slashed the Conservatives’ majority from 25,000 to just 5,700.
The battle for Richmond Park got even more interesting when the Lib Dems announced that they will be running on an anti-Brexit ticket against the Brexiteer that is Goldsmith. This has led to a number of commentators dubbing the by-election a ‘referendum on Brexit’. This is a good move from the Lib Dems as the majority of the constituents of Richmond Park voted to remain in the EU.
So in the blue corner, we have Goldsmith – anti-Heathrow and pro-Brexit. And in the yellow corner we have Olney – anti-Heathrow and anti-Brexit.
The big question is, will Goldsmith’s popularity and strong stance against Heathrow be enough to guarantee him the seat, or will Richmond Park’s pro-Brexit sentiment shine through for Olney? Last night, bookmaker William Hill had the Lib Dems as the odds-on favourite at 4/6 compared to Goldsmith’s 11/10.
So it seems, for the time being at least, that Goldsmith is on the back foot at the moment, but as a week is a long time in politics, there’s still plenty of time for either candidate to win the race for Richmond Park.