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Your Voice: Should the left unite in the Richmond Park byelection?

Letters: Because the Tories have shamefully abandoned their own cause, Labour need not similarly quit this Richmond field

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Your report (Ukip will back Goldsmith in byelection, 28 October) that “Labour frontbenchers Clive Lewis and Jonathan Reynolds and the former shadow minister Lisa Nandy suggested their party should not contest the seat” in the Richmond Park byelection. As a member of the Labour party and former Green I welcome their intervention. The 2015 election showed that the first-past-the-post electoral system is not fit for purpose, and until we have electoral reform and proportional representation there will always be an argument for electoral alliances. At the 2015 election in Richmond Park the Labour vote increased by 7.3%, the Lib Dems were down 23.5% and Zac Goldsmith increased his majority. However when he won the seat from the Lib Dems in 2010 Labour only just saved their deposit with 5% of the vote.

Goldsmith contested a racial campaign to become London’s mayor and supports a hard Brexit in a constituency where 70% voted remain. If those on the left of politics are serious about working together to defeat a rightwing Tory government, this is an opportunity to cut the Tory majority in the Commons. There is a need for the Lib Dems, Greens and Labour in the constituency to get together to see if an accommodation can be reached with one joint candidate as a one off – possibly via a primary election. No one will thank them if a Ukip-supported Goldsmith is elected because of their divisions: other than the Tories and Ukip.
David Melvin
Green party parliamentary candidate for the Halton constituency at the 2015 general election

• Rather than “stitch up” the Richmond byelection, it is surely best for Labour to play a straight bat (Labour frontbenchers urge party not to contest Richmond Park byelection, theguardian.com, 26 October). Labour’s rules require constituency Labour parties to select and present candidates for all parliamentary elections. For this to be avoided requires NEC approval.

It follows, then, that the NEC would be expected to quote convincing chapter and verse to justify a rule circumvention. The three Labour frontbenchers argue that we should “put the national interest first”. We do this, apparently, by narrowing the field so that Goldsmith can be better beaten by the Lib Dems. In addition, we can deliver a post-mayoral contest kicking for Goldsmith’s “nasty, racially divisive campaign”. Yet these are parochial matters, and will only serve to divert local debate away from the precipitating issue (the local and national strategy on Heathrow expansion).

Despite an obvious middle-class bias there are many working-class constituents (and others) who would welcome a local economic stimulus.

Because the Tories have shamefully abandoned their own cause, Labour need not similarly quit this Richmond field.

At the heart of our constitution, Labour is committed: “to work for a dynamic economy, serving the public interest”. The party also agrees to: “work in pursuit of these aims with trade unions”.

Labour is therefore dutybound to express its own partisan voice by engaging in these arguments, both locally and nationally. To disengage locally will be to opt out as a responsible political gamechanger.
Mike Allott
Eastleigh, Hampshire

• Zoe Williams is right (Division haunts the left. This is our chance to lay it to rest, 31 October). I support Arsenal no matter how well the team plays; all that really matters is that we win. But I support Labour because I want a fairer, more equal society. Electoral victory for Labour is not an end in itself. The party is an instrumental collectivity; over the years it’s been the tool most likely to do the job that I want doing. The problem is the tool broke in our hands at the last election: the bit at the top came off. (And anyone who thinks we can just stick it back on is delusional: Nicola Sturgeon is head and shoulders the most able politician in the UK.)

We have to learn to play nicely and co-operate, just like they told us in infant school. Why don’t we start in Richmond? Come on, comrades, what’s the worst that could happen? No Labour victory in Richmond? Er… Hello?
Rod Wood
Nottingham

• Once again the seductive chimera of an anti-Conservative electoral arrangement is touted for the Richmond Park byelection. Frankly, over the years I have grown weary of these attempts to provide a “silver bullet” shortcut to political renewal. I recall the short-lived “Radical Action Movement” of David Steel, John Pardoe and two Labour MPs in March 1968. Then from 1981 we had the SDP/Liberal Alliance which ran into the sand by the general election of 1987. On each occasion it was the Liberals who had to pick up the pieces.

Now we again have the siren voices urging a formula for choosing a single candidate for the current byelection. Essentially such proposals are patronising, firstly to the electors who are assumed not to know the political facts of life and, secondly, to the Liberal Democrat campaigners who are judged unable to persuade the electors of those facts.

In Richmond Park the Zac Goldsmith gesture in resigning over the Heathrow third runway issue is shown to be a mere charade by the decision of the Conservatives not to oppose him. If his action was to be influential he would have had to defeat a government candidate. The byelection can now be a broader judgment on the Conservative government’s competence. It is worth noting that the Liberal Democrats’ three recent victories there were achieved with Labour polling over 10% each time, but lost in 2010 when, even in the pre-Corbyn era, that vote was almost halved. It will be far more significant for the Liberal Democrats to win without an electoral trick.
Michael Meadowcroft
Leeds

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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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