Richmond's by-election has become rather surreal in the last couple of days. On Wednesday night Zac Goldsmith turned up to a crucial hustings an hour late, blaming the delay on a close encounter with a car driven by one of his own supporters (the vehicle clipped his leg and tore his trousers, Goldsmith told a bemused audience).
And yesterday the element of farce continued as ageing crooner Bob Geldof – apparently a former friend of Goldsmith – rocked up to support Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, despite being neither a member of the Lib Dems nor a resident of the constituency.
Another aspect of the election to raise eyebrows at City A.M. was the distribution of “City News” – a piece of Lib Dem election literature handed to commuters (see below) which looks suspiciously similar to the masthead of the Square Mile’s favourite financial newspaper. Sincerest form of flattery, eh? At least Olney’s party is aware of the electoral importance of City workers who live in Richmond. Goldsmith, on the other hand, declined to give an interview to this newspaper with a spokesperson suggesting our readers were not a priority during his campaign – which is a shame, as we distribute over 1,000 copies to commuters in Richmond every day.
The battle between Olney and Goldsmith will be resolved at tonight’s count. The former Conservative candidate for mayor should retain his seat and remains the bookies’ favourite, but odds on a shock Lib Dem win are tightening. Both candidates have attempted to turn the by-election into a mini-referendum, each on a different government policy (Heathrow expansion and Brexit).
It has become more the latter than the former. Olney may have been embarrassed by the revelation that her husband worked on the construction of Terminal 5, but despite this, the fact remains that nearly all Richmond PPCs are opposed to a third runway.
The winner is unlikely to change the face of British politics. The Lib Dems would merely increase their size from eight MPs to a still-measly nine, while Goldsmith will inflict minimal damage as an independent backbencher. Nevertheless, Theresa May’s official majority will be trimmed, whatever happens, which could make things marginally more interesting in parliament.