Thoughts on the Richmond Park By-Election

I write only a few hours after the Richmond Park by-election result, which saw the Liberal Democrats win an unexpected victory over former Conservative Party MP (standing as Independent) Zac Goldsmith.

I had not taken much interest in the by-election, mainly because the constituency is atypical, full of the sort of affluent self-described liberals who usually vote soft Conservative or Liberal Democrat and who believe in the EU, multicultural/multiracial Britain, “refugees welcome” (though not in Richmond, of course) and whatever helps to support their own comfortable lifestyles.

The result:

What struck me first of all was the poor showing of Labour, which lost its deposit for the first time since the constituency was created in 1997. Labour achieved a 12% vote in 2015 and managed 5% even in the 2010 General Election which Labour lost. Labour’s 3.7% vote in the by-election was only 9 times that achieved by the Monster Raving Loony.

UKIP did not stand, which perhaps says something in itself. UKIP had climbed from a vote of 0.7% in 2001 to 4.2% in the 2015 General Election.

Zac Goldsmith had increased the Conservative Party vote from around 39% under previous candidates to 50% in 2010 and 58% in 2015. However, his anti-Heathrow-expansion stance was irrelevant in the by-election, because the decision to expand the airport has now been taken. Another factor was the EU: Goldsmith’s pro-Brexit view was at odds with that of most Richmond voters in the most pro-EU constituency in England.

There were minor candidates: Fiona Syms, estranged or ex-wife of the Conservative MP for Poole. She received 173 votes (fewer than the Monster Raving Loony); a sullen Indo-Pak calling himself “Maharaja Jammu and Kashmir” (real name Ankit Love), representing his “One Love” crank party [] (which consists, it seems, of 3 or 4 people). The “maharajah” received 67 votes; there were a couple of other candidates.

What can perhaps be said about this by-election? What does it indicate? That Labour is still sliding and that UKIP has (at best) stalled.

What cannot be said about the Richmond Park result? That voters outside Richmond Park (or the few places like it) are anti-Brexit; that the Liberal Democrats are resurgent. In the end, the only practical result of the by-election is that it reduces by 1 the number of Conservative MPs (and so by 2, in effect, the already-small Commons majority of the Theresa May government).

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