Richmond Park by-election results: good or bad?

The Westminster by-election in Richmond Park yesterday saw the former Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith, loose to the Liberal Democrats. The results are perhaps not surprising, but looking at the full results I’m yet to decide if the out come is good or bad, from my point of view at least. I’m going to list some pros and cons on the results.

First, here are the official results:

Party – Candidate Votes (Percentage)
Liberal Democrat – Sarah Olney 20,510 (49.6%)
Independent – Zac Goldsmith 18,638 (45.1%)
Labour – Christian Wolmar 1,515 (3.7%)
Monster Raving Loony – Howling Laud Hope 184 (0.4%)
Independent – Fiona Syms 173 (0.4%)
Christian Peoples – Dominic Francis Stockford 164 (0.4%)
One Love – Maharaja Jammu and Kashmir 67 (0.2%)
No label – David Powell 32 (0.1%)

Let’s start with the pros. I need some good news!

  1. The Conservatives majority has been cut – while technically, whether Goldsmith or Olney won, the official Government majority would still have been 13 today. Goldsmith would have effectively been re-elected as a Conservative, rather than independent, siding with the Government on most issues. This reduction in majority weakens the Prime Minster’s position.
  2. A general election is less like next year – a general election next year would be disastrous for Labour and, at present appear to show the Government would win a much increased majority. However, after last night, Theresa May can be less sure of the out come. How much of a Lib Dem fight back could we see? How pro-EU Tory votes could they loose? The increased uncertainty could make May think twice and give Labour more time to sort itself out.
  3. A pro-EU candidate won – Goldsmith wanted the by-election to be about Heathrow airport expansion. The Lib Dems wanted it to be about the EU. The boroughs the constituency falls in voted by a large majority to remain in the EU and so pro-EU supported in Richmond Parks should be expected. However, as a former Conservative constituency falling to a pro-EU party, the Government should now listen up. A huge number of people voted to stay in the EU and while this election result should not alone stop the Government’s plans to leave the EU, it is a warning sign that the Government cannot afford to completely ignore the 48% who voted remain. They must be listened to and ‘Brexit at all costs’ cannot continue to be the Government’s only plan. There is now an MP there with the strong mandate to opposed Brexit.
  4. Zac Goldsmith is out of Parliament – I used to think he was half decent, for a Tory. But what the London Mayoral campaign, with the accusations of racism, and this by-election have highlighted is that he is rather unpleasant. It also shows he is perhaps out of his depth – two electoral defeats in one year shows someone who is misguided. He misjudged the tone of the mayoral election and he seriously misjudged the people of Richmond Park in this by-election. Parliament is better off without him.

Why are the overall results bad?

  1. The Lib Dem win could signify a change in their fortunes – by winning a by-election it says the Lib Dems are back in business. It sends a message around the country that it’s OK to vote for them again. It’s a specifically strong message those who voted to remain in the EU. Labour should be very worried about this as it opens up another major front again to fight for votes on. If Labour are not careful and if they do not get their position right on Brexit, then we could see another significant loss of votes to the Lib Dems in the coming months.
  2. The Labour vote collapsed – Labour got 1515 votes or 3.7%. This is down from 12.3% in the 2015 general election. You can argue all you want about tactical voting and I’m sure there was a lot of it going on here. But the Labour share has never been as low since the constituency was created in 1997. As the official opposition, you’d be hoping Labour could do better than this.
  3. Large Labour membership in an area could mean nothing – we’re told (by Momentum) that a large Labour party is good for the party. That Labour winning elections will come automatically from getting more members and holding large rallies of those members. Well Labour have around 1600 members in Richmond Park now. That is more than the 1515 votes Labour got. Since when has there ever been an election where the votes per party member were less than 1? It brings up a lot of questions. Did anyone who was not a party member even vote Labour? What was the point in using Labour resources here to get the wider electorate to vote? How many party members did not vote and why? How many party members voted for another party and why? It’s deeply worrying and says a lot about the state of Labour at the moment
  4. The results support Heathrow expansion – Goldsmith called the by-election due to his opposition to Heathrow airport expansion with the aim of winning on the back of that opposition. In being defeated, it supports allows the Government to claim the electorate, in Richmond Park at least, supported Heathrow expansion, making it more likely to happen.

Have I missed any pros and cons?

Image use in this are by Policy Exchange [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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