Richmond Park by-election: how to deal with Zac Goldsmith

Regardless of the result in the Richmond Park by-election, a big mistake by the Green Party is being topped by a worse one. Two wrongs do not make a right. This is written before the polls close, irrespective of the result.

The story so far:

Caroline Lucas, one of the joint Leaders of the Green Party, is proposing a ‘Progressive Alliance’ of everybody who isn’t Tory uniting to oust an otherwise impregnable Conservative hegemony. Although this has not been adopted by the Green Party nationally, in pursuance of this strategy, Richmond Park Green Party decided not to field a candidate in today’s by-election, urging Greens to vote for Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrat Candidate. For anyone reading this some months later, Zac Goldsmith, the sitting MP, has resigned as a Conservative, but is standing as an anti-Heathrow Runway Independent. I admit bias in regarding this as bogus, in view of the absence of a Conservative candidate. However, a number of dissident local Greens are now urging party members to vote Labour.

I have already blogged about why I believe the ‘Progressive Alliance’ of everybody who isn’t Tory uniting is mistaken. Reason number one: if I were a Labour strategist, I would be dead against it. Permanent, but still vociferous opposition would be a lesser evil than the Green Party being given an entrée into mainstream politics.

I agree that this government is appalling and must be removed as soon as possible, for two reasons: they are profoundly anti-ecological, and have a nasty, demonizing approach to social welfare. But Reason number two (anti- Prog All), it would make more sense if some former Tory voters who are concerned about one or both these issues could be persuaded to vote Green, as 2.3 million of them did as long ago as 1989.

If there was the slightest chance of the Labour Party being sympathetic to the Progressive Alliance, this by-election was the ideal opportunity to give it a test run. Although Zac has been a popular MP, he is strongly anti-Europe in an area with a high ‘pro’ vote. Labour has no hope of gaining an MP, but there would have been a high probability of the Conservatives losing one. (I do not consider the re-election of Zac as such a result).

However, once Christian Wolmar became the Labour candidate, the Green Party was faced with an agonizing tactical decision in a ’can’t win’ situation. If (as is the case) we did not stand, then the only strategy would be to urge Labour voters to vote Lib Dem, to demonstrate support for the Progressive Alliance principle.

I myself would have urged the other option: Stand. Once Labour had wrecked the Progressive Alliance trial, the Green Party should have fielded a candidate, targetting  the government record since 2010 on the environment. At first sight, this is Zac’s strong suit: his reason for resigning is he is against another runway. But his reasoning, and his ‘former’ Party’s failure to oppose him, are odd. Zac has remained remarkably silent though nearly seven years of consistent anti-environmental policies. Was he shoulder to shoulder with Caroline Lucas when she was arrested at Balcolmbe? No, he was forging an agreement with the Countryside Alliance that hydraulic fracturing was acceptable in principle, subject to certain safeguards.

Some will have read my 2012 ’Open Letter’ to Zac, which I concluded by repeating USA President Johnson’s view of a dodgy ally: I would rather have him pissing outwards from my tent. Now I am not so sure. His Uncle Edward is still regarded as one of the leading thinkers of the ecological movement, but since Teddy died in 2009,  Zac  has drifted. Edward Goldsmith would have been screaming blue murder at the whole direction of the coalition government. I cannot prove that he would have trenchantly insisted that all fossil fuels must stay in the ground, but to do otherwise would have been against everything he did say or write.

The Green Party could have coupled this attack with my own strategy, of using Iain Duncan Smith’s literature (Dynamic Benefits) setting out the case for the Citizens’ Basic Income instead of the Universal Credit. If we are to manage without the brief prosperity which we are promised courtesy of fracking, then we need something to enable the lower level of economic activity to be acceptable to all. Over my long career as a doorstepper, I have persuaded hundreds, possibly thousands of obviously prosperous burghers that higher taxes in return for a planet fit for their grandchildren is a good bargain.

Bearing in mind last week’s news about the Arctic, I am not sure how many more golden opportunities we are going to be offered.



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