Congratulations to Sarah Olney for winning the Richmond Park by-election and becoming the first woman Liberal Democrat MP of this Parliament. While it looks like a major upset it’s actually consistent with local government by-election results up and down the country, which have frequently seen 20% swings to the Liberal Democrats.
Commiserations for Labour candidate Christian Wolmar. I’m sure he’s a decent bloke and I respect him as a transport journalist and writer even if we disagree on HS2. But Labour fought a confused campaign with the party leadership on a completely different page than the candidate on the one central issue the election was about. Still, a lost deposit has got to hurt.
Kudos to The Green Party for choosing not to field a candidate in order not to split the vote.
And as for the losing former MP Zac Goldsmith, good riddance to bad rubbish. He forced the election for reasons of personal vanity and got hoisted on his own petard in spectacular fashion. And we haven’t forgotten the awful dog-whistle racism of his losing campaign for Mayor of London. In a year when the populist right has been in the ascendancy, he’s managed to lose twice.
It’s too early to tell how much this one by-election will affect the wider political landscape. It may well succeed in moving the Overton Window slightly further away from a hard Brexit. It at least ought to bring the Liberal Democrats back into the national political conversation. It’s time for the media, especially the BBC, to stop acting as if UKIP were the only third party that matters. While it looked like it would take a generation for the LibDems to recover from the electoral disaster of 2015, politics is far more volatile now, and those who wrote off the party might now have words to eat.
If it’s the start of a national revival for the Liberal Democrats, it’s potentially very, very bad for Labour. Ever since the EU referendum, they have been acting like rabbits in the headlights, unsure of which way to turn. This is a parry whose own electoral base is split; the traditional small-c conservatives working class in their post-industrial heartlands have little in common in either cultural or economic interests with their voters in the cosmopolitan cities. With a resurgent Liberal Democrats on one side and Paul Nuttall’s UKIP targeting the traditional Labour supporters on the other, they cannot triangulate without exposing the opposite flank. They’re probably too entrenched in their strongholds for Scotland-style wipeout, at least on a national basis, but it’s hard to see them as a potential party of government any time soon. Their problems go way, way deeper than their awful leadership.