The Liberal Democrats have caused a major upset in the Richmond Park by-election, overturning a 23,015 majority to oust ex-Tory MP Zac Goldsmith.
Mr Goldsmith stood as an Independent after leaving the Conservative Party in protest at the government’s decision to back a third Heathrow runway.But Lib Dem Sarah Olney, who is also opposed to Heathrow expansion, fought the campaign on the issue of Brexit.She polled 20,510 votes to Mr Goldsmith’s 18,638.The remaining six candidates, including Labour’s Christian Wolmar, all lost their £500 deposits as they did not receive a big enough share of the vote.The Conservative Party, UK Independence Party and Green Party did not field candidates.
As the new Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, Ms Olney will be the party’s only female MP – joining eight male colleagues.She said the by-election result was a rejection of the “politics of anger and division”.She added: “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.”
Sarah Olney joined the Liberal Democrats only 18 months ago. She now becomes the party’s ninth MP.As soon as the polls closed last night, the width of Lib Dem smiles pointed to an extraordinary result.A party of government shrivelled to a rump at last year’s general election had rediscovered its mojo in this rich, pro-European corner of south-west London.Zac Goldsmith had hoped this contest would be a referendum on the prospect of even more planes thundering through the skies here if Heathrow Airport gets bigger.But, instead, it was June’s EU referendum that dominated.Seventy per cent of voters here backed Remain. But Zac Goldsmith didn’t.
The Liberal Democrats, unapologetically pro-EU, ruthlessly exploited this.Sarah Olney told me she would vote against triggering Article 50 – the formal mechanism for starting Brexit.But the country voted Leave, even if this seat didn’t, and the government will press on regardless.For Zac Goldsmith this was his second political humiliation of the year.Beaten by Labour to be London Mayor, beaten by the Lib Dems in his own backyard. And leaving Theresa May’s slender majority looking even thinner.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “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.”In her victory speech, she said: “A year and a half ago I wasn’t involved in politics, I wasn’t a member of a political party, I had never been involved in a political campaign, I had never thought about being a politician.But I knew I was a liberal.”When I saw what happened in the general election last year I felt I had to get involved.”Ms Olney, who lives in North Kingston with her husband Ben and two children, works as a qualified accountant at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington.