The Greens in south London have got themselves into a bit of a lather, after the environmentally concerned party decided not to contest the Richmond Park parliamentary by-election, and instead support the LibDems in an effort to beat Zac Goldsmith.
The decision has been described by the single Green-supporting councillor in Sutton, Croydon and Bromley as a “capitulation” and “an environmental betrayal” .
For the past six years the Greens in Croydon and Sutton have taken the battle all the way to the High Court against the local LibDems and their polluting incinerator at Beddington Lane.
“How can you trust the LibDems on environmental issues when in LibDem-controlled Sutton they are building a polluting incinerator in the constituency of their only London MP?” Nick Mattey, a Sutton councillor, said.
Mattey was kicked out of the Liberal Democrat party for highlighting the polluting potential of the £1 billion Viridor incinerator scheme, being built with public money in his ward. While Mattey continues to sit on the council formally as an independent, he has aligned himself with the Greens.
“Giving up core values of protecting our planet is not progressive,” Mattey said. “The LibDems cannot be trusted.”
Mattey described the Greens’ decision to support the LibDems in the Richmond Park by-election as a “capitulation”.
Calling for Londoners “to fight LibDem environmental hypocrisy”, Mattey said: “Giving the LibDems a free pass is not bold. It’s an environmental betrayal.”
The Richmond Park by-election has been called after multi-millionaire Goldsmith resigned his seat to fulfil a pledge if a Conservative government approved plans for a third runway at Heathrow. Goldsmith, who tries to make much of his environmental credentials, was elected to parliament in 2010 having made that promise after the then Tory leader David Cameron had said, “No ifs, no buts, no third runway at Heathrow”.
So much for that, then…
The new Tory Prime Minister Theresa May last month endorsed plans for a third runway at Heathrow. Goldsmith duly resigned, and said he would stand in the by-election as an independent. As part of another Establishment stitch-up, to make it easier for Goldsmith, May’s Conservatives have decided not to field a Tory candidate against him.
Goldsmith also has the backing of UKIP.
And this is where problems with any “progressive alliance” begin to arise.
The Greens say that they want to ensure that the Brexit-backing, runway-building Tories and UKIPpers are dealt a bloody nose, and therefore they have opted not to split the anti-Goldsmith vote on December 1.
Susan Kramer had held the seat for the LibDems until 2010. Goldsmith retained the seat in 2015 with a whopping increased majority of 23,000 votes, after the FibDems had been part of the Tory-led government for the previous five years. The Greens polled just 3,500 votes in Richmond Park in 2015.
The Greens in south London are already going through the process of candidate selection for parliamentary seats in case of a snap General Election. It has been suggested that Richmond Park is a costly diversion which the small party cannot afford to contest properly. Running campaigns eats up party funds: in a council by-election in nearby Reigate last week, the Green candidate, Sasha Khan, a Croydon resident, finished last with just 55 votes, and was criticised for failing to conduct much of a campaign at all.
If the Greens hoped that Labour might be part of their money-saving “progressive alliance” of the left in Richmond Park, they will be disappointed, as yesterday Christian Wolmar, the journalist and former Mayoral campaigner, was selected as their candidate.
“There have been suggestions that Labour should not stand in this election, since the Tories have withdrawn and we need to unite around an anti-Brexit candidate,” Wolmar said. “This would be a big mistake. Labour needs to fly the flag here. We may be facing a general election within a year. To absent ourselves, abandoning our voters and demonstrating nationally that we are not up for the fight, would be a big mistake.”
And Wolmar, a transport expert with strong environmental credentials who has been a long-time opponent of airport expansion, has already outlined his campaign themes for the by-election, effectively turning it into a localised referendum on Brexit. Goldsmith is a committed Brexiteer, having learned anti-EU sentiment on his father’s knee: Sir James Goldsmith founded an the Referendum Party, a right-wing forerunner of UKIP.
“I can say categorically that if elected, I would vote against Article 50,” Wolmar said – just days after three High Court judges ruled that MPs should get to vote on Brexit terms negotiated by May and her three stooges, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davies.
Wolmar is well aware that in June, 72 per cent of the electorate in Richmond Park voted to Remain in the EU, making Europe Goldsmith’s electoral Achilles’ heel against other candidates who also oppose Heathrow expansion.
“I will be the anti-Brexit candidate,” Wolmar said, “and as such the one who best represents the views of the majority of its constituents. Leaving Europe will be such a disaster for Britain, as many recent news items have revealed, that we must do everything in our power to prevent it.
“Crucially, being anti-austerity must be a cornerstone of Labour policy, in contrast to the LibDems, who were in partnership in the Coalition that introduced it in the first place,” said Wolmar.
“That does not mean blindly opposing every cut or change in government spending patterns. It does, though, mean having a coherent economic alternative, based on investment, supporting small businesses and tackling poverty.”
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