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Why the Lib Dems' Richmond by-election triumph will scare Tory MPs

New Conservatives have long feared they could be punished for Brexit. 

Lazarus has risen. The Lib Dems' Richmond by-election triumph confirms their return as an insurgent force in British politics. Tim Farron's party overturned Zac Goldsmith's elephantine 23,015 majority with a vintage swing of 21.7 per cent (their biggest since 1997). 

The victory will be commonly described as a "shock" today. But all the signs, as Stephen noted earlier this week, were there. The Lib Dems won a swing of 19 per cent in the recent Witney by-election and have long been advancing locally. In Richmond, they turned an ostensible referendum on Heathrow (the trigger for Goldsmith's resignation) into one on Brexit. The seat, which voted 69-31 for Remain, revolted against the incumbent's Leave stance. In a competitive field, Goldsmith (who lost with dishonour in London) may have had a worse 2016 than any other politician.

By not fielding a candidate, the Conservatives avoided the humiliation of defeat. But the result is also a rebuke - and a warning - to them. Were last night's swing replicated on a national level, the Tories' majority wold be wiped out. By-elections are a historically poor indicator of general election results but marginal MPs will still endure sleepless nights. If Goldsmith can squander a majority of 23,015, they will ask, what chance for us? Bath, Cheltenham, Kingston and Surbiton, and Twickenham are in the Lib Dems' sights (though its former south west heartland is staunchly eurosceptic).

Even before Theresa May became Prime Minister, new MPs pleaded with her not to go to the country for fear of a Lib Dem revival. Their warnings have been vindicated. An early general election, which May has long inclined against, is now even less likely. 

Since May became PM, much of the political pressure on her has been for a "hard Brexit". But Richmond gives supporters of a "soft" exit (or none at all) a rallying point. For the first time, the principle of blocking Brexit has been endorsed at the ballot box. Marginal Tories risk being caught on the wrong side of their constituents. 

Though the Conservatives have the most to fear from the result, it will also deepen Labour anxieties (it won just 3.7 per cent in Richmond). If Brexit becomes the new dividing line in British politics, the party risks a three-way squeeze between the Lib Dems, Ukip and the Tories. As Labour learned to its cost in Scotland, referendums can have painful afterlives. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why gay men love this photo of Prince George looking fabulous

It's not about sexuality, but resisting repressive ideas about what masculinity should be.

Last week’s royal tour by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge provided the most intimate view of the young family to date. Throughout the five-day visit to Poland and Germany, it was the couple’s adorable children who stole the spotlight.

As George and Charlotte become better acquainted with a world in which everyone recognises them, this level of public scrutiny is something that will no doubt have to be carefully managed by the family.

But there is one particular image from the trip that has both captured people’s hearts and prompted debate. On the eve of his fourth birthday, Prince George was invited behind the driver’s seat of a helicopter in Germany. Immaculately dressed in a purple gingham shirt neatly tucked in to navy shorts, the future King is pictured staring out of the helicopter in awe.

As a man who was visibly gay from a young age, the distinctly feminine image of George smiling as he delicately places his hands on his face instantly struck a chord with me. In fact, an almost identical photograph of five-year-old me happily playing in the garden is hung on my parents' kitchen wall. Since the photos appeared online, thousands of other gay men have remarked that the innocence of this image reminds them of childhood. In one viral tweet, the picture is accompanied by the caption: “When mom said I could finally quit the soccer team.” Another user remarks: “Me walking past the Barbies at Toys ‘R’ Us as a child.”

Gay men connecting this photograph of Prince George with their childhood memories has been met with a predictable level of scorn. “Insinuating that Prince George is gay is just the kind of homophobia you’d be outraged by if it was you," tweets one user. “Gay men should know better than that. He is a CHILD," says another.

Growing up gay, I know how irritating it can be when everyone needs to “know” your sexual orientation before you do. There are few things more unhelpful than a straight person you barely know telling you, as they love to do, that they “always knew you were gay” years after you came out. This minimises the struggle it took to come to terms with your sexuality and makes you feel like everyone was laughing at you behind your back as you failed to fit in.

I also understand that speculating about a child's future sexual orientation, especially from one photograph, has potential to cause them distress. But to assume that gay men tweeting this photograph are labelling Prince George is a misunderstanding of what we take from the image.

The reaction to this photo isn’t really about sexuality; it’s about the innocence of childhood. When I look at the carefree image of George, it reminds me of those precious years in early childhood when I didn’t know I was supposed to be manly. The time before boys are told they should like “boy things”, before femininity becomes associated with weakness or frivolity. Thanks to a supportive environment created by my parents, I felt that I could play with whichever toys I wanted for those short years before the outside world pressured me to conform.

Effeminate gay men like me have very specific experiences that relate to growing up in a heteronormative world. It is incredibly rare to see anything that remotely represents my childhood reflected in popular culture. This image has prompted us to discuss our childhoods because we see something in it that we recognise. In a community where mental illness and internalised homophobia are rife, sharing memories that many of us have suppressed for years can only be a good thing.

People expressing outrage at any comparisons between this image and growing up gay should remember that projecting heterosexuality on to a child is also sexualising them. People have no problem assuming that boys are straight from a young age, and this can be equally damaging to those who don’t fit the mould. I remember feeling uncomfortable when asked if my female friends were my girlfriends while I was still in primary school. The way young boys are taught to behave based on prescribed heterosexuality causes countless problems. From alarmingly high suicide rates to violent behaviour, the expectation for men to be tough and manly hurts us all.

If you are outraged at the possibility that the future king could perhaps be gay, but you are happy to assume your son or nephew is heterosexual, you should probably examine why that is. This not only sends out the message that being gay is wrong, but also that it is somehow an embarrassment if we have a gay King one day. Prince William appeared on the cover of Attitude magazine last year to discuss LGBT bullying, so we can only hope he will be supportive of his son regardless of his future sexuality.

Whether Prince George grows up to be heterosexual or not is completely irrelevant to why this image resonates with people like me. It is in no way homophobic to joke about this photograph if you don't see a boy being feminine as the lesser, and the vast majority of posts that I’ve seen come from a place of warmth, nostalgia and solidarity. 

What really matters is that Prince George feels supported when tackling the many obstacles that his unique life in the spotlight will present. In the meantime, we should all focus on creating a world where every person is accepted regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, because clearly we’ve got some way to go.