2016 minus 62: Richmond Park

Posted: 31 October 2016 in 2017 minus, politics
Tags: , ,

I’m not sure what comes to mind when you think of the words “Richmond Park”.

It could be this:

Or this:

Or even, well, remember fenton? 

Or, if you’ve read the newspapers the past week or so, it could be this:

Richmond Park is a UK parliamentary constituency that has, in its current form and boundaries, only been around since 1997. It was created from two older seats: Richmond and Barnes (which had been around itself only 14 years) and a chunk of the onld Kingston Upon Thames constituency.

(Before 1997, Richmond and Barnes was part of Richmond (Surrey) seat, which goes back to 1918.)

For most of its history, Richmond has been a Conservative seat, with the notable exceptions of the early 20th century when it was a “unionist” seat, and of 1997-2010 during which it was a Liberal Democrat. From 1997 to 2005, it was held by Jenny Tonge. Yes, that Jenny Tonge.

I didn’t live in the constituency during those years; I’m honestly not sure how I’d have dealt with being represented by someone with a talent for antisemitic comments, who trades in antisemitic tropes. I suspect it wouldn’t have been easy.

However, back then I was living in Barnet.

Last year, before the election, I wrote the following:

I can’t think of a single election in the past thirty years where I’ve agreed with even the vast majority of any single party’s manifesto.

I can’t even speak on how they’ve acted as a constituency MP, on the other hand… with one exception. My Member of Parliament for some years was Sir Sidney Chapman, a man with whose politics I fervently disagreed. Yet, I never heard a single complaint from across the local political spectrum about his activities as a constituency MP. He seemed to be that apparently most rare of species: someone who believed, once elected, that he owed a duty to everyone in his constituency, whether or not they’d voted for him.

Even though his politics and mine were far apart I had no hesitation in voting for him because of his reputation as a first class constituency MP. The decision was, I have to say, made a lot easier because there wasn’t one chance in a thousand that his party would form the government, let alone let him be part of it.

This was in 1997 and 2001. There was no chance that Labour weren’t going to win, and win big. So, Chapman was my MP and I was pleased he was. His personal politics aside, he worked for his constituents as a constituency member of parliament is supposed to. I met him just the once, in Barnet High Street. He was charming in his way, I suppose, but I didn’t take to him personally. But he got my personal vote in the elections.

What most amuses me, looking back at that, given how often I’ve been accused of being a “Blairite” since the advent of The Blessed Jeremy, was that I never voted for Blair. Though to be fair, with the exception of the constituents of Sedgefield and the members of the Labour Party, no-one did. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly proud of having voted for a right wng Tory, and as I say, the decision would have been more diffocult, and probably different, had the national situation been different. But it wasn’t, and I was quite ok with a good constituency MP.

I’ve never lived in a constituency that’s had a by-election, though this by-election will share some the same qualities of every by-election:

Whatever the ‘government’ candidate wants the by-election to ‘be about’, it won’t be about that. In this case. The local MP has resigned, ostensibly on a matter of principle. Given Zac Goldsmith’s unprincipled and entirely immoral campaign for London Mayor, only a few months ago, one wonders how he has the gall to claim that he had principles, but be that as it may. Goldsmith wants the by-election to be about his principled stand against a third runway at Hearthrow. While the government party has helped his chances of election by not putting up an official candidate, that hasn’t exactly helped his position of “I’m standing to show I disagree with the government.”

One thing that doesn’t seem to have even picked up so much outside the constituenceL how much damage Goldsmith did to his local personal reputation with that mayoral campaign; at the time, I didn’t know anyone locally, from all sides of the political spectrum, who wasn’t dismayed – at best – and disgusted, by it.

The Liberal Democrat candidate is similarly against the Heathrow runway so there’s nothing to gain for her nor her party by agreeing the by-election is about that. So, of course she and her party have said the by-election shouldn’t be about that; it should in stead be a referendum on Brexit. Given that the constituency voted over 70% Remain in June, if she can pull that sleight of hand off, she’s actually got a chance, despite the Lib Dems coming a distant second in 2015 (19.3% vote share compared to Goldsmith’s 58.2%). 

The big names will be in town. It’s already started, at least as far as the Lib Dems are concerned. They’ve had to Big Names visiting. The first, the day the by-election was announced? The aforementioned Jenny Tonge, a coupel of rays before she left the party. So that went well. Today, apparently, Nick Clegg’s been around. Though somehow, the earth didn’t shake at his presence.

The choice. Labour haven’t picked their candidate yet, and it’s at least mildly curious that had I remained a member of Labour Party, I’d be among those deciding who the local candidate will be. As it is I have no idea whether the party will choose a local name or a Big Name from outside the constituency who glances their chances. Why, I have no idea, since in 2015, the labour candidate got 12.3% of the vote. I’d be surprised if whoever they pick does much better this time around. (Worth nothing though that despite the Constituency Labour Party supporting Corbyn in 2015, they were the first to go for Smith in 2016.)

Theres no-one else that will register highly on the day. It’s a two-horse race really between the Tories and the Lib Dems.

As for me? Right now, I have no idea who I’ll vote for. I’m struggling with the choice, genuinely. At choice between:

  • The candidate who ran a racist campaign for mayor a few months ago
  • The candidate whose local Party actively welcomed an antisemite to campaign
  • The candidate – whoever they are – from a Party whose leader is studiously and consistently indifferent to others’ antisemitism

The by-election is on 1st December.

There’ll be at least one more blog on it before the by-election itself. Until then, I’m going to comfort myself with the knowledge that even if I get approached every ten minutes from now until election day by someone advocating for their candidate, I’ll still collect fewer flyers than I would in a single afternoon during the Edinburgh Fringe. 

Something else, tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

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