Even I can’t say I’m upset that Zac Goldsmith has lost his seat. For the last few days, now, my journey into work has been an assault course created by cheery Liberal Democrat activists campaigning in Richmond – they earned their victory. Not once did I see anyone campaigning for Zac Goldsmith.
Not that I wanted to see any of them: this whole by-election was an elaborate hissy fit by Zac. Voters were being used as political props, to add extra theatricality to his flouncing out of the Tory Party. If he wanted to resign the whip to fight Heathrow, he should have done so. But to resign his seat and stand again put everyone to the trouble of having to vote again – it was an act of self-indulgence that was rightly punished by voters. Heathrow expansion is very unpopular here (as I write, the noise of a Boeing 777 from Sao Paulo is gently reverberating around my kitchen). Brexit is rather unpopular too; Richmond is one of the most pro-Remain parts of the whole country. But my sense is that Brexit was not the decisive factor behind his defeat: it was a victory for good, old-fashioned campaigning. And the fact that it was, in effect, a two horse race. A referendum on Zac, and his decision to call a by-election.
The Lib Dems blitzed this place; the other parties didn’t even seem to turn up. I must have seen the Lib Dem candidate, Sarah Olney, about half a dozen times around the constituency in the past few weeks. I got home at 9.40pm last night and her friendly helpers were still out in force. I saw more posters for “Hope Not Hate” than I saw for Zac. He seems to have relied upon the size of his 2015 majority to think that we’d all come out for him again, united in repugnance against the Heathrow decision.
The Lib Dems will be crowing about overturning a 23,000 Tory majority – a feat less impressive than it sounds, seeing as the Tories didn’t even field a candidate in this by-election and no one else made a serious effort. I still hold to my prediction that this party, which is predated by Kylie Minogue’s music career, will be outlasted by it.
In parliament, Zac Goldsmith was an active campaigner for changing the rules over MPs’ election – saying, for example, that voters should have the power to sack a rubbish MP. I think there should now be a new law: no more hissy-fit by-elections. That MPs who call a by-election should not be able to stand again. Mind you, after what happened to Zac last night, I doubt many MPs will be in a hurry to repeat his experiment.