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Labour frontbenchers urge party not to contest Richmond Park byelection

Trio want to give Lib Dems better chance of defeating Zac Goldsmith, but others in party argue ‘stitch-up’ would anger voters

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukLabour frontbenchers have called on the party not to put forward a candidate to run against Zac Goldsmith in the forthcoming Richmond Park byelection, to give the Liberal Democrats a clear path to try to snatch the seat.

Clive Lewis, the shadow business secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow City minister, and Lisa Nandy, a former shadow cabinet minister, said Labour should “put the national interest first” by doing what it could to reduce the Conservatives’ majority.

They also said Goldsmith had run “a nasty, racially divisive campaign” for mayor of London against Labour’s Sadiq Khan. “If there is any chance of kicking Goldsmith out of parliament, the vote against him must not be split. That’s why we think Labour should consider not standing a candidate in this byelection,” the three MPs wrote in an article for Labour List.

Goldsmith resigned from his seat and from the Conservative party on Tuesday to fight the byelection as an independent in protest at the government’s decision on Heathrow expansion. The Conservatives have said they will not stand a candidate against him. The Lib Dems finished second to Goldsmith in the last election, and Labour third.

Labour does intend to put forward a candidate in the west London constituency and the party’s national executive committee is preparing a timetable to choose a candidate. Other Labour MPs said failure to stand a candidate would be seen as a “stitch-up” by voters, who needed to make their own decisions about whether to vote tactically.

Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader, is understood to believe it would be a bad idea not to put forward a candidate, and that it was irresponsible of the frontbenchers to float the idea without consulting local party members and councillors. “We’re a national party, we have to be contesting every seat,” a senior source said.

The Lib Dems, who held the seat until 2010, said they planned to throw “not just the kitchen sink but the whole house” at the byelection campaign. The party, which also opposes Heathrow expansion, hopes to put the focus on Brexit, after Goldsmith campaigned for leave despite a high majority of his constituents backing remain.

Nandy, Lewis and Reynolds, who have all previously said they are open to the possibility of progressive alliances in certain seats, said a decision not to put forward a candidate against Goldsmith could bring benefits for Labour in the future.

“Clearly such a decision must have the support of the local CLP [constituency Labour party]. Such a decision must not be imposed from above,” the MPs wrote. “It will also mean the Liberal Democrats understanding this isn’t a free ride. With the upcoming local elections next May there may well be seats where Labour (or possibly the Greens) could be given a clear run against their Tory opponents, with local consent.”

The trio said Goldsmith was “a hard Brexiteer [who was] willing to throw hard-won environmental and workplace protections down the drain despite all his talk of being green”.

They said progressives in parliament needed to reduce the Conservatives’ 12-seat majority in parliament for crucial votes on grammar schools, the Human Rights Act and welfare. “It may be time for Labour to put the national interest first. Instead of pretending this is a referendum on Heathrow, why not make it a real referendum on Goldsmith?” they said.

However, the Labour MP Wes Streeting said the party should not follow the lead of the Conservatives in denying voters a choice. “Clearly there will be lots of voters in Richmond Park who will see the Lib Dems are the main challengers and wish to vote tactically, but that is a choice for the voters,” he said.

“Political parties should not be engaging in backroom stitch-ups; we should allow grownups to make their own minds up.”

The Green party leaders Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley hinted their party might consider not putting forward a candidate in the byelection, though they stressed it would be a local decision.

A party spokesperson said: “Jonathan and Caroline are longstanding advocates of progressives working together to beat the Conservatives, and they welcome the news that Labour is now having these discussion too. This byelection could be a real chance to reduce the Conservative majority in parliament and replace a candidate disgraced by his racist campaign to be mayor of London.

“At the core of any agreement must be local decision-making, so the Green party leadership will be meeting with the local members to discuss their plans, and it will be those members who have a final say.”

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Lib Dems pull off shock victory in Richmond Park by-election as Zac is thrown out

James Giles

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A ‘shockwave to Downing Street’ has, last night, been pulled off by the Liberal Democrats, with Sarah Olney defeating Zac Goldsmith in the Richmond Park by-election.

Lib Dem challenger Ms Olney overturned Mr Goldsmith’s 23,015 majority to win by 1,872 votes. The result saw Ms Olney poll 20,510 votes to Mr Goldsmith’s 18,638, on a turnout of 41,367, or 53.6 per cent. The 21.74 per cent swing to the Lib Dems from Mr Goldsmith topped the 19.3 per cent swing the Lib Dems achieved from the Tories in the Witney by-election.

A Green Party spokesperson said: “The Green Party’s decision to stand down and the huge drop in the Labour Party vote show that people will vote tactically. It proves that there is a huge appetite and a need for proportional representation so that people can express a real preference at elections. In Sarah Olney, we now have an MP who will push for the electoral reform that we so urgently need. We look forward to working with the Liberal Democrats, Women’s Equality Party and the Labour Party in a Progressive Alliance for the 2018 local elections and the next General Election.”

 

Ms Olney said the shock victory was a rejection of the “Ukip vision” of Britain, and the politics of “anger and division”.

In her victory speech, she said: “The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government, and our message is clear: we do not want a hard Brexit. We do not want to be pulled out of the single market, and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win.”

In a brief acknowledgement of the result, a clearly downcast Mr Goldsmith said: “This by-election that we have just had was not a political calculation, it was a promise that I made and it was a promise that I kept.”

Labour’s Christian Wolmar lost his deposit as he trailed a distant third with 1,515 votes, losing 8% of the Labour vote compared to 2015.

A Conservative Party spokesman said the result would make no difference to Brexit plans, stating: “This result doesn’t change anything. The Government remains committed to leaving the European Union and triggering Article 50 by the end of March next year. Commiserations to Zac Goldsmith on his defeat. We are sorry that he is no longer in the House of Commons.”

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “The message is clear: The Liberal Democrats are back and we are carrying the torch for all of those who want a real opposition to this Conservative Brexit government.

“This was a remarkable, come-from-nowhere upset that will terrify the Conservatives. A year and a half ago, their man won by nearly 40% and had a majority of more than 20,000. In one fell swoop we have wiped that out completely.

“If this was a general election, this swing would mean the Conservatives would lose dozens of seats to the Liberal Democrats – and their majority with it.

Mr Wolmar said voters had disliked Mr Goldsmith’s “ghastly, disgusting” bid to be London Mayor in which Labour accused him of running a racist campaign against Sadiq Khan.

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