I wasn’t at all surprised when Zac Goldsmith resigned on principle over the Government’s Heathrow decision. He had always said he would, and having worked alongside him both as a local Councillor and as an MP, I know he’s the kind of politician who keeps his word. At a time when people’s anger towards politicians is alarming high, that really matters.
The by-election is happening as a direct consequence of the Government deciding, wrongly, to give the green light Heathrow expansion. It is an opportunity for the whole community to rally together and say ‘no’.
But as this crucial by-election unfolds, I have been appalled by the tone of the Lib Dem campaign against him.
I knew that the Lib Dems would try to capitalise on the strong Remain vote in Richmond and Kingston, and they are of course entitled to do so. But the manner in which they are doing so is not only desperate, it is wrong.
I was a firm supporter of the Remain campaign and was dismayed by the result of the referendum. Zac and I voted differently. We cast our votes in what we both thought was the best interests of our country.
But in their efforts to unseat Zac they have deliberately misrepresented him. In addition to portraying Zac as a ‘hard Brexit’, UKIP candidate (because UKIP aren’t fielding a candidate in a seat where they have no real support), the Lib Dem candidate signed a letter last week stating that Zac is “the second most anti-Europe MP in Parliament”.
This is absurd. To put it in context, around 150 MPs campaigned actively for Brexit. Zac was not one of them.
I know from first-hand experience that Zac has been a thoughtful and moderating influence on the debate. He led a group of 36 Conservative MPs in calls on the Prime Minister to safeguard EU environment laws. He was one of just two Conservative MPs to vote with Labour to protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. I was the other one. That was his last vote in Parliament before resigning. That is not ‘hard Brexit’.
The truth is, an overwhelming majority of MPs from all major parties, including many who passionately campaigned for Remain, have accepted the verdict of the British people and will not attempt to block it. They know that to do so would risk inflaming anger and giving rise to the kind of extreme politics that is surging out of control right across the continent, and in America.
Ironically, just two weeks ago, the Lib Dem candidate in this by-election would have agreed with that. She wrote; “Britain is leaving the EU. I accept that. I don’t think we should re-run the referendum. I think we should stick to the course that has been decided.” She also said she would not vote against Article 50.
This is a referendum on Heathrow. But in fact it is more than that. Colleagues from right across the political spectrum respect and admire Zac for keeping his word, for his environmental leadership, for his independent-minded approach to politics. They, like me are looking forward to working with him again. This is your chance to return to parliament a hugely effective and honest MP, and a real champion for the community.
Tania Mathias MP, Twickenham