Election Review The Richmond Park by-election is a bad omen for Labour
I thought I’d offer my quick thoughts on the recent election in Richmond In the leafy constituency of Richmond Park, voters ousted Zac Goldsmith in favour of Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney in a by-election triggered by Goldsmith’s resignation following the government decision to back a Heathrow expansion. Goldsmith fulfilled his promise of resigning, and should be applauded for it.
On polling day, the realistic choice for constituents was either the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney who joined the party in 2015, or Zac Goldsmith who was backed by both the Conservatives and Ukip. The latter was keen on making the election a mini-referendum on the third runway decision as this has long been a concern for residents of the constituents, many of whom live under the flight path already. The by-election, however, quickly became a European Union issue. The constituency had had one of the largest turnouts in the country, with a clear majority voting for Remain in the June referendum; their MP however, was a proud Brexiteer. This high turnout clearly showed what an important issue membership of the European Union was for Richmond Park.
Sarah Olney has spoken in favour of EU membership multiple times on the campaign trail and this was undoubtedly a dominant reason for her winning the by-election; otherwise, both Goldsmith and herself were fairly aligned, especially on Heathrow. It is for this reason that Labour should be concerned.
The new leader of Ukip has said that he wants to “replace Labour”. In his victory speech, Mr Nuttall spoke about the desire to target Jeremy Corbyn, whose interests lay in “dinner party politics” like climate change and fair trade, rather than issues such as immigration and crime. He made his desire “to replace the Labour party and make Ukip the patriotic voice of working people” very clear.
Superimpose a map of the EU referendum results with a map of Labour’s seats, and it is clear that Labour should be worried; their core voters, those with lower incomes, were on the whole also those who voted Leave, yet the parliamentary party has a pro-Europe stance. Since the Richmond Park by-election signals how important membership of the EU is for constituents and what a pivotal role it can play in a local election, it is not unlikely that Ukip - who on paper appeal better to those voters in the Labour heartlands - could very well slash Labour’s influence through by-elections, local elections, or even a snap-election. This is particularly likely in constituencies who may be concerned their MP will vote against the triggering of Article 50.
Paul Nuttall, who went to a state school in Merseyside, appears as more of a “working-class hero” than Farage ever managed to be and Corbyn will ever be. The Labour leader’s vegetarianism and humus is unlikely to attract voters in the north, especially if they are as passionate about leaving the EU as the constituents of Richmond Park were about remaining.