Friday, 2 December 2016

The Zac has crash-landed

In case you have not seen them yet, here are the results of the momentous Richmond Park by-election:

Zac Goldsmith, Independent, 18,638 (45.1%, -13.1%**)

Howling Laud Hope, Official Monster Raving Loony Party, 184 (0.4%)

Ankit Love (aka Maharaja Jammu and Kashmir), One Love Party, 67 (0.2%)

Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrats, 20,510 (49.7%, +30.4%)

David Powell (no description), 32 (0.1%)

Dominic Stockford, Christian Peoples Alliance, 164 (0.4%)

Fiona Syms, Independent, 173 (0.4%)

Christian Wolmar, Labour Party, 1,515 (3.7%, -8.6%)

Even many minutes before the official declaration, it was clear that Zac Goldsmith, the former Conservative MP who ran on a ticket to oppose the third runway at Heathrow, was going to lose to Sarah Olney, who becomes the first Liberal Democrat MP to have not been a member of that party during its infamous coalition years.

Many are claiming that a 'Progressive Alliance' (which I do not support and nor do many of my friends because of the past acts of Labour and the Lib Dems and the fact they did not represent real change at all, and still do not) was responsible for that Lib Dem victory with a margin of 1,872. However, further analysis of this by-election and what occurred show that this is not the case. The Green Party should have stood to offer voters in Richmond Park a real choice about environmental and social justice (it is the principle and taking part that counts even if you do not win the election in the end!) and could potentially have won the by-election themselves if they had stood were it not for the Lib Dems' ability to rouse more supporters and money. Turnout dropped sharply from 76.5% to 53.5%, significant in a constituency where turnout is consistently among the highest in Britain whatever the weather or circumstances, where there was an intense battle royale between Zac and Sarah, and where there was an issue deep to locals' hearts and minds. Even in 2001, where the general election turnout dropped to a dismal 59% overall, more than two-thirds of Richmond Park's electorate still voted. I believe that many Green voters instead stayed at home rather than vote tactically, because like every other major party we have core voters everywhere. Greens should stand everywhere and for everyone in Britain in future, and make it clear that we are the most modern and most honest voice of change, and that it is important to care about our planet in order to look after ourselves and each other.

The fact is Zac brought this loss on himself, tactical voting or no tactical voting, with his disastrous mayoral campaign earlier, his support for exiting the EU in a constituency which voted heavily to remain in the EU, and the taxpayers' expense he went to in order to make this protest. Before nominations had even closed, several people said publicly they would not vote for him on the grounds of him 'being a pompous prat'. It seems rather a fitting end to his once-glittering (by Conservative standards) political career.

Labour losing their deposit was hardly surprising given how determined Zac and Sarah were to defend and gain this seat respectively, and Labour had very nearly lost their deposit in Richmond Park back in 2010, this being their worst constituency in the whole of Greater London. Amidst the rest, it was surprisingly OMRLP leader Howling Laud Hope who finished fourth, albeit with just 184 votes and less than half a percent of the vote, making this the worst fourth-place finish for any candidate since Christopher Teasdale (using the description 'Soon To Be Unemployed') in the 1984 Stafford & Stone by-election. Meanwhile, the Independent Conservative and pro-Heathrow campaign of Fiona Syms (ex-wife of Robert Syms, Conservative MP for Poole since 1997) was a complete flop, as she finished behind even the Monster Raving Loonies. The wooden spoon award for this by-election was picked up by David Powell, who polled only 32 votes, less than half of that of even completely inept perennial candidate Ankit Love-and I have not been able to figure out what he was actually doing here.

The by-election also demonstrates a greater need for electoral reform. People should be able to vote for who they believe in and for what they believe is right, not tactically or to remove a candidate they do not want. It is also clear that the £500 deposit barrier is not effective at deterring frivolous or completely useless candidates-it just shuts out new and less well-resourced parties and candidates, and discriminates particularly against candidates who are women, have disabilities and/or caring responsibilities of some kind. Introducing some form of proportional representation and increasing the signature requirement while scrapping the requirement for a deposit needs to happen sooner rather than later-this works well in many other countries.

















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