Lib Dems eye victory over Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park

Powered by article titled “Lib Dems eye victory over Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park” was written by Jessica Elgot Political reporter, for The Guardian on Wednesday 30th November 2016 12.12 UTC

Liberal Democrats in Richmond Park are predicting they will narrowly snatch the west London seat from Zac Goldsmith, after a campaigning blitz in which the party claimed activists spoke to more than 30,000 voters.

The party’s internal data, seen by the Guardian, predicts the Lib Dem candidate, Sarah Olney, will win 47.2% of the vote on Thursday, edging ahead of the former London mayoral candidate on 45.8%. Labour’s Christian Wolmar will trail on just 6.2%, the party’s modelling claims.

Lib Dem sources said activists knocked on 20,000 doors last weekend alone and estimated they had spoken to 52% of eligible voters over the course of the campaign.

However, the party’s internal memo warned of a high number of voters still wavering between the Lib Dems and Labour, and said the focus had to be persuading Labour voters to vote tactically. The area recorded one of the highest remain votes in the country during the EU referendum, though Goldsmith supported leaving.

Goldsmith, who triggered the byelection in Richmond Park by resigning from the Conservative party in protest at the government’s decision to expand Heathrow airport, has resolutely focused on the third runway during his campaign as an independent. The Conservatives have not put up a candidate against him.

On Wednesday, the anti-Heathrow campaign group HACAN said it had not endorsed Goldsmith and criticised the MP for claiming that it had.

Lady Sally Hamwee, president of the group, said: “HACAN has been determined that our successful campaigning organisation focuses on the issue rather than endorsing any candidate in this byelection. It is part of our strength that we are known as non-party political, and involve members from all parties. I am very sad that in the current highly charged atmosphere, Mr Goldsmith has chosen to project HACAN as endorsing him.”

HACAN chair John Stewart stressed: “We have been very careful not to criticise any of the candidates during the byelection but did welcome the fact that Zac Goldsmith had kept his promise to trigger it if a third runway was given the green light.”

Goldsmith was late to the last hustings of the byelection on Tuesday night after a car accident in which he was struck by his own vehicle, though he escaped unharmed.

Arriving after an hour, during which a Conservative councillor took his place, Goldsmith apologised for the delay, saying he had been determined to change his torn trousers, according to the Evening Standard.

“I wasn’t going to come here before you with a trouser leg shredded and not looking very nice,” he said. “I really had to go and present myself. I really do apologise for that.”

Singer Bob Geldof, an outspoken pro-EU campaigner, will join Lib Dems on the campaign trail on Wednesday afternoon. During the EU referendum, Geldof commandeered a river boat cruiser to rival a Brexit flotilla headed by Ukip’s Nigel Farage, in one of the most surreal moments of the campaign nicknamed the “Battle of the Thames”. Farage’s boat drenched Geldof’s vessel with water hoses and Geldof flicked a V-sign at the Ukip leader, calling him a “fraud”.

The Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, hailed Geldof as “a longstanding and passionate campaigner” for important causes. “I’m grateful to him for standing up for pro-European voices at a time when our country needs them more than ever,” he added. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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