Who are the Falklands three?

"No one will ever admit it," says one islander after just three (0.2%) vote not to remain an overseas territory of the UK.

It is votes like that on the status of the Falkland Islands that remind us why the secret ballot was invented. Of the 1,517 who took part in the referendum (a turnout of 92 per cent), 1,513 (99.8 per cent) voted in favour of remaining an overseas territory of the UK and just three (0.2 per cent) voted against. It was a result that would make even Kim Jong-un blush. Asked who the "Falklands three" might be, one islander told the Guardian's Jonathan Watts: "no one will ever admit it". 

The British government, unsurprisingly, has been quick to trumpet the result as proof that Argentina should relinquish any claim to sovereignty over "Las Malvinas". David Cameron said that the Kirchner government should take "careful note" of the result, while William Hague said: "I welcome today's result, which demonstrates more clearly than ever the Falkland Islanders' wish to remain an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.

"We have always been clear that we believe in the rights of the Falklands people to determine their own futures and to decide on the path they wish to take. It is only right that, in the 21st century, these rights are respected.

"All countries should accept the results of this referendum and support the Falkland Islanders as they continue to develop their home and their economy. I wish them every success in doing so."

Kirchner, however, is in no mood to back down. Following the result, Senator Daniel Filmus, a close ally of the president, declared: "We must denounce this trickery that pretends to represent the popular participation of an implanted population. This publicity stunt has no validity for international law." 

The Argentine Senate will vote this week on a motion to reject the result of the referendum and to reaffirm its claim to the islands. "The United Kingdom lacks any right at all to pretend to alter the juridical status of these territories even with the disguise of a hypothetical referendum," the country's foreign minister Hector Timerman said. 

In the meantime, the race continues to find one of the three. 

Residents gather in Stanley, Falkland Islands on March 10, 2013, during the referendum. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who'll win the Richmond Park by-election?

There are three known unknowns that will decide the contest. 

It’s official: Zac Goldsmith has resigned as the Conservative MP for his Richmond Park seat, and has triggered a by-election there, where he will stand as an independent candidate.

Will it be a two-way or a three-way race?

The big question is whether the contest will be a three way fight between him, the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, and an official Conservative candidate, or if CCHQ will decide to write the thing off and not field a candidate, making it a two-horse race between Goldsmith and Olney.

There are several Tory MPs who are of the opinion that, given that latitude to disagree on Heathrow has been granted to two Cabinet ministers, Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, similar leeway should be extended to Goldsmith. It’s win-win for Downing Street not to contest it, partly because doing so would put anti-Heathrow MPs, including Johnson and Greening, in an impossible position. Theresa May isn’t averse to putting Johnson in a tricky spot, but Greening was an early supporter of her leadership bid, so her interests come fairly high up the prime ministerial radar.

But the second reason not to contest it is that Goldsmith’s chances of re-election will be put in a serious jeopardy if there is a Tory candidate in the race. Everything from the local elections in May or the Liberal mini-revival since Brexit indicates that in a three-way race, they will start as heavy favourites, and if a three-way race results in a Liberal Democrat win there will be bloodletting.

Although people are talking up Goldsmith’s personal vote, I can find little hard evidence that he has one worth writing home about. His performance in the wards of Richmond Park in the mayoral election was actually a bit worse than the overall Tory performance in London.  (Boris Johnson didn’t have a London seat so we cannot compare like-for-like, but Sadiq Khan did four points better in Tooting than he did across London and significantly outperformed his general election performance there.) He did get a big swing from Liberal to Conservative at the general election, but big swings from the Liberal candidate to the Tory were a general feature of the night, and I’m not wholly convinced, given his performance in Richmond Park in 2016, that it can be laid at Goldsmith’s door.

If he wins, it’ll be because he was the Conservative candidate, rather than through any particular affection for him personally.

But will being the Conservative candidate be enough?

Although on paper, he inherits a healthy majority. So did Robert Courts, the new MP for Witney, and he saw it fall by 19 points, with the Liberal Democrats storming from fourth to second place. Although Goldsmith could, just about, survive a fall of that magnitude, there are reasons to believe it may be worse in Richmond Park than Witney.

The first is that we already know, not just from Witney but from local council by-elections, that the Liberal Democrats can hurt the Conservatives in affluent areas that backed a Remain vote. But in Witney, they barely squeezed the Labour vote, which went down by just over two points, or the Green vote, which went down by just under two points. If in Richmond Park, they can both damage the Tory vote thanks to Brexit and squeeze Labour and the Greens, they will win.

Goldsmith's dog-whistle campaign for the London mayoralty will particularly help squeeze the Labour vote, and thanks to Witney, the Liberal Democrats have a ready-made squeeze message. (In Witney, Green and Labour votes would have been more than enough to elect Liz Leffman, the Liberal candidate.)

But their good performance in Witney and Goldsmith's mayoral result may not be enough on their own.  Ultimately, the contest will come down to the big question that will decide not just the outcome in Richmond Park but the future of the Liberal Democrats.

Have the voters forgiven the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition?

We know that Brexit can help the Liberal Democrats at the direct expense of the Conservatives. What we don’t know is if Brexit is enough to convince 6,000 Labour voters in Bath to vote tactically to get Ben Howlett out in exchange for a Lib Dem, or for 7,500 Labour voters to back a Liberal candidate in Hazel Grove to defeat William Wragg.

One of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats lost votes directly to the Tories in 2015 was fear: of uncertainty and chaos under an Ed Miliband government propped up by the SNP. That factor is less live in a by-election but has been further weakened due to the fact that Brexit – at least as far as Remain-backing Conservatives are concerned – has brought just as much uncertainty and chaos as Miliband and the SNP ever would have.

But the other reason was disgust at the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition with the Conservatives. If they can’t win over enough votes from the parties of the left, we’ll know that the party still has a way to come before we can truly speak of a Liberal revival. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.