It's been quite an exciting week in British politics with the shock result of the Richmond Park by-election. This article gives some analysis of what happened, why it happened, and what it all means.
First, it's definitely worth mentioning the results of this by-election. They are as follows:
- Sarah Olney (Liberal Democrat): 20,510 votes (49.7%) (+30.41)
- Zac Goldsmith (Independent): 18,638 votes (45.2%) (-13.06)
- Christian Wolmer (Labour): 1,515 votes (3.67%) (-8.67)
The Liberal Democrats managed to overturn a 20,000-vote majority to win another seat in the House of Commons, bringing their MP total up to nine. Labour lost their deposit, having achieved less that 5% of the vote, whilst Zac Goldsmith lost his seat after resigning as a Conservative and triggering the by-election over his opposition to government plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport.
The Richmond by-election was initially triggered over an internal Conservative Party dispute regarding Heathrow expansion. However, it was obvious from the start that it would turn into a battle over Brexit. The Liberal Democrats have held their strong anti-Brexit stance despite the result of the June referendum, whilst Goldsmith is very much a Eurosceptic. It is important to note how this constituency voted in that referendum in order to establish what exactly happened in Richmond.
As the referendum results were declared by local authority, not parliamentary constituency, there is no official result for Richmond (The Richmond Park constituency is made up of parts of the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames and the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames).However, it is estimated that Richmond came in the lowest 12 constituencies in terms of a "leave" vote, with 72.3% voting in favour of Remain.
It may, therefore, come as no surprise that it was the candidate with the clearest anti-Brexit stance who would go on to take the seat. It makes complete sense given how bitter and drawn-out this business continues to be.
Several Remain supporters - among politics and the media - have launched themselves into declaring that this is the people's declaration of their opposition to a "Hard Brexit" (or whatever we're calling it these days). Ok, but two things: a) As I mentioned already, this constituency is very pro-EU anyway, as was demonstrated back in June, and b) In a constituency that voted over 70% to remain in the EU in June, why did just over 50% (if you include the Labour candidate) vote for a pro-EU candidate in the December vote?
Although it is very clear that Richmond voters still support EU membership, I don't really think it's exactly a massive blow to the pro-Brexit crew when an EU-supporting candidate wins a by-election against a Brexiteer in a pro-EU constituency. Some have even ventured to argue that support for the EU has effectively dropped. Again, I don't think this is something for anyone to declare as a decisive victory for one side or the other.
The Impact on Party Politics
The first obvious one is that the government has lost another MP, reducing its majority. Another important point to note is that the Liberal Democrats now have nine MPs. Neither of these effects are hugely important, but we may now have some indication about how a general election might go. Bearing in mind we may well see a snap election next year, this is important.
Given that the Tories are still arguing over Brexit and the Labour Party has lost much of its credibility to internal scrapping, it looks like the Liberal Democrats could have a window of opportunity. If they dig in on the anti-Brexit front, they provide a clear, popular stance to win votes on. 48% voted to remain in the EU in June, so that's potentially 48% of the electorate up for grabs.
The flip side to this is the Marmite Party - by that I mean UKIP (well, you either love them or you hate them). With a new leader in place, and the infighting that has blighted the party seeming to be fading, they could also benefit from standing on a firm platform regarding the EU. All they really have to do is keep a strong, clear, pro-Brexit stance and not argue about it in the process. They can't really afford to have another leadership contest, high-level resignation or bust-up, but despite recent events, I think they may well be able to take advantage of the government's dithering.
What will be very interesting is the result of the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, where UKIP are looking to get a second seat in the House of Commons. I'll write another article on that when the time comes. For now, however, thanks for reading and please find me on Twitter and Facebook!
Richmond, Brexit and a Shock By-Election Reviewed by Student Voices on 15:47 Rating: