The Liberal Democrats have defeated Zac Goldsmith to win the seat of Richmond Park, south-west London.
Goldsmith resigned from the Tory party and contested the by-election as an independent, citing his opposition to a third runway at Heathrow. But the Lib Dems fielded Sarah Olney – who only joined the party in 2015 – and fought a campaign on their opposition to Brexit. Goldsmith backed leaving the EU in June.
Olney received 20,510 votes to Goldsmith’s 18,638 – overturning his previous majority of 23,015. The Greens, Ukip and the Tories did not stand a candidate. Labour, along with the smaller parties, lost its deposit.
Richmond Park result:
LDEM: 49.7% (+30.4)
ZAC: 45.2% (-13.1)
LAB: 3.7% (-8.7)
— Britain Elects (@britainelects) December 2, 2016
Sarah Olney becomes the Lib Dems’ ninth MP – and their only woman in the Commons.
She said: “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.”
As my colleague Stephen Bush wrote yesterday, the Lib Dems have been increasingly bullish about their prospects in Richmond Park all week, despite an early poll of the seat which put them well behind: “Richmond is ripe with the voters that the Liberal Democrats believe represent their path back: affluent, educated, part of that small group that might not have voted for Tony Blair and David Cameron, but felt the benefits of both administrations, and, broadly, hasn’t been actively distressed by the result of an electoral contest – other than the European referendum.”
The result in Richmond will make many in Labour and the Conservative party nervous. For Tories who won their seats from Lib Dems in 2015, this is a sign that there is a small but significant block of voters for whom Brexit is a motivating issue. (Nearly three-quarters of voters in Richmond voted Remain.) For Labour, the concern is that a political discussion polarised around pro/anti-Brexit lines leaves them out of the picture – as has happened in Scotland, where the narrative is framed around independence/unionism.
This is the second good result for the Lib Dems’ anti-Brexit strategy: in the by-election on 20 October, they reduced the Tory majority in Witney by 20,000. The Oxfordshire seat, previously held by David Cameron, is also affluent and Remain-voting. The party has also done well in local elections since the referendum, particularly in the south-east of England.
However, don’t start ordering your “Prime Minister Farron” baseball caps just yet. By-elections are notorious for wild swings, and the Lib Dems’ polling is still low nationally . Plus, the party threw the kitchen sink at Witney, with the leadership privately saying that they had activists braced for an autumn general election, who would instead be deployed there.
Also in “smaller parties quite chipper” news, the Greens are claiming credit for the win, saying that by not fielding a candidate, they helped the Lib Dems defeat a “regressive alliance”. In 2015, the Greens received 3,548 votes in Richmond Park, while Goldsmith was defeated by 1,872.