Richmond by-election: Why the Liberal Democrats should be worried.

It’s very sad that Zac Goldsmith – a very good and honourable MP – has lost  his seat in the Richmond Park by-election. He always said that he would resign from the Conservatives if they decided to build the third runway at Heathrow. The Conservative government has decided to do just that and so, being a man of honour, that is precisely what Zac did. He has been replaced by a Liberal Democrat, Sarah Olney, who has managed to endure 2 minutes 59 seconds of being questioned by Julia Hartley-Brewer in this extraordinary interview before being taken away by her minder. Not a good start for Sarah Olney’s views on accountability.

The Lib Dems ran the campaign in Richmond as if it were a re-run of the EU referendum. They asked the good people of Richmond to judge the Liberal Democrat policy position of being opposed to the UK exiting the EU. They punched this message repeatedly, whilst at the same time splitting Zac’s core message of opposing the third runway at Heathrow, because Sarah Olney is also opposed to the third runway. Or at least, so she says, even though her husband has made a lot of money from helping to expand Heathrow’s Terminal 5. She may not be quite so solid on this subject as she says she is. Her record in Parliament will be worthy of a close watching brief.

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Picture: Sarah Olney campaigning with Bob Geldof during the Richmond Park by-election campaign, November 2016.

Naturally, having won the by-election, the Lib Dems are shouting about how it is a vindication of their opposition to leaving the EU. By contrast, Twitter was yesterday alive with people making comparisons between the similarity of the margin of their win with that of the Leave margin in the EU referendum – 4.5% compared with 3.8% for the referendum. Those of a waggish nature suggested that as the vote was so close, the people of Richmond obviously did not know what they were voting for and so there should be a re-run; that the result should be overturned by the courts, and so on. In other words the intrinsic hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrat and Remainer positions have been exposed for what they really are – an assault on democracy and the biggest mandate for anything in the history of the United Kingdom. Julia Hartley-Brewer caught Sarah Olney nicely with this and caused the dear lady to cut and run.

But there is another aspect of the results of this by-election which deserve deeper analysis. According to the Evening Standard, the EU referendum results for Richmond-upon-Thames are that 75,396 people voted for Remain, whilst 33,410 voted for Leave. This means 69.3% voted for Remain in Richmond during the referendum. However, that was in June of this year and much has happened in the ensuing debate about how and when we should leave. A huge amount of effort has been expended by the Remainers in attempting to find any means possible to overturn the referendum result. And even some of those who voted Remain are now beginning to express impatience with those persistent Remainers who think they can overturn that result. If the Richmond by-election really was about about being a re-run of the referendum then we should look carefully at the fact that Sarah Olney’s percentage was a mere 49.68% of the votes cast.

In the EU referendum, Richmond-upon-Thames (a bigger area than the Richmond Park constituency) was 69% in favour of Remain in June. But it is now only 50% in favour of Remain. In other words, the swing away from Remain and towards Leave is about 19% or 20%. If this swing was reflected in a further national referendum, the Leave/Remain margin would increase to about a 60/40 split in favour of Leave.

Moreover, the by-election result shows a severely reduced turnout of 53.44%. The national turnout for the EU Referendum was 72.21%. Working these figures back into Richmond Park constituency, it suggests that about 26,000 voters stayed at home – who otherwise went out and voted in the June referendum. This further adds credence to the idea that enthusiasm for Remain (and the Lib Dem support for this) has rapidly declined in the country as a whole since 23rd June.

Whichever way you do these calculations, it suggests that a huge chunk of the electorate are completely turned off by the Lib Dem attempts to overturn democracy. Even though they have just increased their Members of Parliament by one, the Liberal Democrats are heading for big disappointment at the next General Election unless they change their message.

***UPDATE***  A common shout by Labour and other Lefties, who were defeated in a perfectly fair election, is that a newly successful government only speaks for a small percentage of the people. So a government which obtained, say 45% of the votes cast, by the time turnout is taken into account, perhaps only 30% (or less) of the total electorate voted for them. This argument has been used in various ways by Labour in the past; and more recently by the SNP when contriving various reasons for a re-run of the Scottish IndyRef. If we were to apply the same logic to the Richmond by-election then Sarah Olney’s share of the potential vote is: her share of votes cast multiplied by the turnout percentage, i.e.: 49.68 x 53.44% = 26.5%. So if only 26% of the people voted for her, then clearly, this is an excuse for another election, just to make sure.

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