The Lib Dems are back, apparently. Last night, Sarah Olney managed to oust incumbent Zac Goldsmith from Richmond Park and North Kingston, overturning the former Conservative MP’s 23,000 vote majority. Olney won by a margin of 1,800 votes. It’s certainly an impressive feat for the Lib Dems, who have struggled since losing 49 of their 57 seats at the last General Election.
Following Zac Goldsmith’s resignation from the Conservative Party over Heathrow expansion, the by-election campaign was pretty surreal. First, it was revealed that Christian Wolmar, Labour’s candidate, strongly believes that loo paper should be banned and toilets fitted with ‘automatic bidets’ instead. Things became weirder still when Goldsmith arrived at a hustings event mysteriously late, after claiming he’d ripped his trousers in a car accident on his way to the event.
Goldsmith was hardly a strong candidate. Here was a politician who, after being trounced in London’s mayoral elections, presented himself as a rebel independent, despite still being endorsed by the Tory Party. Unlike in previous elections, his anti-progressive, environmentalist politics – like his suggestion that we should stop building on the Green Belt despite the current housing crisis – were not enough to secure him the seat.
In an attempt to overcome their dismal polling status of seven per cent, the Lib Dems threw everything at Richmond Park. They printed their own fake newspaper in an attempt to garner votes. They claimed one thousand of their activists descended on the constituency. The UK’s activist-in-chief, Bob Geldof, was even spotted prancing around Richmond, tactfully chanting ‘Zac is crap’. As with many of Geldof’s political stunts, his presence was not particularly welcome. No doubt Lib Dem HQ winced when he was overheard telling Labour voters not to worry about voting tactically because ‘the Lib Dems are tiny. They’re not a threat.’
While Goldsmith was keen to make the by-election a vote on the expansion of Heathrow – it was, after all, triggered by his resignation from the Tory Party in protest against the construction of a third runway – the Liberal Democrats made it clear from the outset that the battle for Richmond Park was actually a battle to thwart the Brexit vote. After all, 70 per cent of Richmond residents voted to Remain, while Goldsmith campaigned for a Leave vote.