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I have very mixed feelings about the defeat of Zac Goldsmith in the sensational by election victory for the :Liberal Democrats in Richmond Park.
I completely disagree with him over Brexit and I felt he had been seduced by Lynton Crosby’s dog whistle sub racist and Muslim terrorist smear campaign in the Mayor of London election. Anyone in the Tory Party with any sense should know that this would not work in multicultural and multiracial London from the 2015 General Election result- Labour actually gained seats in the capital. And whatever one thinks of Sadiq Khan he is not remotely a terrorist sympathiser.
But I think Zac should be praised for a rare quality in British politics. He is a real democrat who believes MPs should be accountable to the people who elect him.
His plan was to give 5 per cent of the electorate the right to start the process of forcing an MP to stand down if they misbehaved badly or were suspended from the Commons. He failed to get such a radical idea accepted in full – but nevertheless an act was passed which could allow the triggering of such a process.
He also was a man of his word. He asked approval of his voters to stand for Mayor of London as it would mean giving up his seat and he kept his word by asking his electorate to approve his stance against Heathrow’s third runway.
This time he lost because of his stance on Brexit.
It is also to his credit that he is a genuine environmentalist who campaigns on green issues – hence his opposition to Heathrow and his support for renewable energy. It is a bit ironic that the Greens contributed to his defeat as he would agree with a lot of their policies in this area.
He also took a brave stance on child sexual abuse – particularly when it became clear that his constituency was a venue for historical child sexual abuse in the 1980s. His stance was justified when ,under Operation Fernbridge, Southwark Crown Court heard about the abuse of boys at Grafton Close children’s home and a Roman Catholic priest was sent to jail for his part in abusing kids with the now dead head of the home John Stingemore.. Richmond Council under both the Tories and the Liberals had hidden this at the time.
He also was the driving force to get an all party initiative to set up a national independent inquiry into child sexual abuse because he thought it was such a serious issue. It is not his fault that it is at the moment facing serious disarray and needs to get its act together. He had good instincts and is really concerned about the plight of survivors.
Now why has he lost and what does this mean for the Liberal Democrats and Labour Party.
Political commentators should have seen this coming. The Liberal Democrats have won over 20 council seats since the General Election in by-elections – in some cases with increases in vote share of 30 per cent or more. They are winning in both pro Remain and pro Brexit areas.There have been gains in pro Brexit cities like Sheffield – when the Lib Dems leapt over second place UKIP to take a seat from Labour and only last night in Chichester the Lib Dems took a seat from the Tories in a pro Brexit constituency. In Newcastle – wafer thin remain majority – it is the Lib Dems that are again challenging Labour for council seats not UKIP.
The reason I think is clear. Everyone knows where the Lib Dems stand on Brexit- it is a simple message – and it is getting through and people also remember some Lib Dems as good conscientious local councillors.
For Labour it is not clear where exactly where they stand. In poor areas – like central Carlisle and Hackney – where it is clear that Labour stands for supporting those on the margins – their vote is going up. But in many marginal seats they are starting to lose to the Tories and the Lib Dems. This will not win them the next election and they can’t do it on just defending the NHS – because no party is going to be stupid enough to stand for abolishing the NHS. They are only to chip away at it.
So Labour needs as a matter of urgency to work out some simple messages that voters understand. Otherwise they will lose the plot.An army of new members will not be enough if they have no simple message.
As a Labour Party member I want the manifesto for 2020 finalized by summer 2018. Then we can start kicking for home, with a clear, concise message for the electorate.
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I don’t think we should be so forgiving of the dog whistle racism. A mayoral candidate should be strong enough to stand up to any member of his team that crosses over that line and this by-election is an example of his willingness to strike out on issues of principle. That he tolerated Crosby’s methods suggests he really wasn’t that bothered. Given recent forays into referenda, the democrat agenda seems rather populist now.
While there’s no reason to doubt that his environmentalism is genuine, it’s also consistent with an unsavoury far-right tradition. Greece’s Golden Dawn, for example, has a very active green wing that focuses on ‘revolutionary ecologist actions’ that aim to ‘restore harmony between Greeks and nature’. That includes forest fire fighting, reforestation and organising vigilantes to sort out those who commit violence towards animals.
As for the Labour Party, the problem is with Momentum. The real problem with Momentum is that it has become a safe place to which the leadership may retreat. It’s Corbyn’s comfort zone, somewhere where everyone calls him Jeremy. When he leaves it nasty journalists from places like Channel 4 News ask him difficult questions, like how he’d cope with a snap general election, forcing him to hide behind glass doors while his PR complains of harassment. Building Momentum feels good, but it’s become just another echo chamber.
I very seldom disagree with you, David but I think you are completely wrong about this. The defeat of Goldsmith is the first cheerful bit of political news the world has had all year. As for the man himself, he could hardly have won in 2015 without this pledge; OK, so he honoured it, but if he had failed to honour it, he would have been an outcast, and rightly so.
Did you spot that the defeated Labour candidate was Christian Wolmar the anti Jeremy Corbyn pro Owen Smith transport specialist and author of forgotten children published with the help of the National Children’s Bureau and Barbara Kahan. So it can be assumed that in addition to tactical voting the full weight of London Labour and Momentum was not provided. He stood against Sadiq Kahn to Labour’s nominee for the Mayoralty. Most of the Tory Party said good riddance. The seat was strong Lib Dem as was the Council before 2010. Guess he won’t be on the dole for long though.
That “terrorism” campaign disqualified him from any respect for his integrity, True, he did stick his neck out as one of the CSA inquiry letter signatories but the mayoral campaign was shameful enough to offset that bit of heroism. I had the misfortune to talk to one of his mayoral election canvassers on the doorstep.
I am old enough to remember the Liberal Party wining Orpington in 1962, and subsequent revivals and falls. What almost destroyed the Lib-Dems in 2015 was a number of factors, the Lib-Con government decision on student fees, the appearance that the Lib Dems where not junior partners but the puppets of the Tories. The rise of other parties, one that siphoned the protest vote, leaving the Lib Dems with one policy that appeared toxic, EUROPE.
In the short term it appears an own goal, but in the medium term as Bretexit unravels it may do for Lib-Dems what the Iraq war did for them, give them a clear identity. Yes there was other factors the Lib-Dems had previously the council, yes there was Heathrow and may be one or two local issues and yes Tories do have a habit of punishing their party in by-elections.
The first thing to be drawn from this is maybe someone go and check the pulse of Liberal England, maybe its not dead after all.
As for Zac Goldsmith maybe it saved him sitting in a cabinet of Grammar school types and at the head of the table was the Vicars daughter.
“So Labour needs as a matter of urgency to work out some simple messages that voters understand”.
Maybe they should start reading on the history of the Democratic Party in the USA for clues on how to appeal to a wide range of voters as for example how Democrats embraced the Civil Rights Movement and at the same appealed to Southern Conservative Democrats. To promote equalities on Welfare etc is very good, but does not play down well amongst many potential Labour voters. The Labour Party needs to re-define its values, but not in focus groups in marginal seats. The other is to re-examine the Blairite years and the electoral success of Blair. Quite simply, Blair won because the Tories where so bad, and tore themselves apart, and add scandal after scandal, economic collapse etc was it any wonder that people voted for the fresh faced Blair won elections. Its amazing how people forget what went before, and seems to come round again.