PM faces Tory problem if Zac Goldsmith stands as anti-Heathrow candidate in by-election

The Standard reports that Theresa May faces an awkward problem, if she backs a 3rd Heathrow runway, if Zac Goldsmith resigns his Richmond Park seat and causes a by-election.  Zac held a private meeting of the Conservative group at Richmond Park where he confirmed he is ready to run as an independent. The group also voted in a secret ballot to support Zac rather than an official Conservative candidate, if one stood for the seat. Twickenham MP, Tania Mathias, who is also fiercely against the runway, agreed to support Zac, even though it is strictly against the party’s rules for an MP to back anyone standing against an official party candidate. For a Conservative not to stand, or to be beater significantly, would be very awkward for Mrs May.  It is believed that the runway announcement will be made on Tuesday 25th October.  At the Cabinet meeting on 18th October, ministers were allowed to discuss the runway issue for the first time — though critics of a 3rd Heathrow runway, such as Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, were only invited to comment and not to vote.  The government was expected to hold a vote in Parliament (Commons, not Lords) within a week or so of the decision, to get the endorsement of MPs for the decision. This is now not going to happen.  Zac would need to decide when to resign, for greatest impact.
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Goldsmith poised to stand as anti-Heathrow candidate in by-election

By NICHOLAS CECIL, JOE MURPHY (Evening Standard)

18.10.2016

Theresa May faced a sensational revolt today as local Conservatives backed Zac Goldsmith to stand as an independent anti-Heathrow candidate in a by-election.

In a bombshell development, the Tory group at Richmond Park held a private meeting last night where Mr Goldsmith confirmed he is ready to run as an independent if the Government backs a new runway at Heathrow.

In a secret ballot, the group voted overwhelmingly to support Mr Goldsmith rather than an official Conservative candidate.

 

Extraordinarily, Twickenham MP Tania Mathias took part and also vowed to support Mr Goldsmith — even though it is strictly against the party’s rules to back anyone standing against an official candidate. “They see it as a referendum via the ballot box on Heathrow,” said an insider.

Today the Prime Minister allowed Cabinet ministers to discuss the airports issue for the first time — though critics of Heathrow expansion, such as Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, were only invited to comment and not to vote.

The Government is widely expected to approve Heathrow’s long-running campaign to expand in a week’s time, a move that is bound to cause protests and face legal challenges.

Mr Goldsmith’s resignation as an MP will be triggered by a Government decision to back Heathrow — although local sources believe that he would wait until after a Commons debate before forcing the by-election.

The Liberal Democrats believe they could snatch victory in Richmond Park by running on an anti-runway platform, and Mrs May will now have to decide if she dares to field an official candidate against Mr Goldsmith.

It would be unprecedented for the party to avoid a by-election in a seat with a 23,000 majority, but she would risk splitting local Tories and being defeated if she imposes a candidate.

One Tory source dismissed the likelihood of a Lib-Dem win if Mr Goldsmith stood as an independent, saying: “He has a huge personal following.”

Sarah Olney, an accountant at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, has been selected as the Lib-Dem parliamentary candidate.

Dr Mathias said: “Zac is doing the honourable thing by committing to his pledge and I fully support him in that.” She vowed to fight a third runway in Parliament.

At Cabinet, Theresa May announced a temporary suspension of ministers’ collective responsibility on airport expansion.

Gatwick and Heathrow Airport rivals clash in furious war of words over runway expansion
She said she recognised some ministers had long-held views and they would be allowed to set out their positions for a limited period. However, Cabinet collective responsibility would be applied to the final decision.

The unusual move aims to make it easier for Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Justine Greening, opponents of a third runway, to remain in Cabinet if the Government backs Heathrow expansion.

No 10 said that during the Cabinet’s talks on whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick, a range of views were ex-pressed, confirming the deep divisions among ministers on the issue.

The final decision will be made by a Cabinet sub-committee next week.

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/transport/tories-in-revolt-over-heathrow-a3372236.html

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See earlier: 

Possible resignation of Zac Goldsmith as Richmond MP over Heathrow threatens May’s slender majority

Theresa May’s slender Commons majority risks being cut even further if she backs a third runway at Heathrow, because Zac Goldsmith may resign the Tory whip and fight a by-election as an independent in his Richmond Park seat.  Zac has said in the past that he might resign if the government favoured a Heathrow runway, as the airport has highly negative noise impacts on his constituency. Zac has a majority of more than 23,000, but he voted for Leave in the EU Referendum. His popularity could be reduced by a Brexit backlash or if the Tory vote splits. While Zac’s views on Heathrow expansion are in tune with many voters in his seat, almost 70% of people who voted in Richmond upon Thames on June 23 backed Remain. The Lib-Dems  – who held the seat before Zac – said they would put Brexit at the centre of any by-election contest in the constituency. Brexit and Heathrow are two of the most important issues in Richmond.  Mr Goldsmith is understood not to have made up his mind yet whether to stand as the Tory contender, an independent or quit Parliament. Mrs May has a Commons majority of twelve.

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=32003 

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Zac Goldsmith likely to quit politics, rather than stand again as Richmond MP, if May approves Heathrow runway

The Evening Standard reports that Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park, has said he would resign as an MP if Theresa May decides to approve a Heathrow 3rd runway. He has said for a long time that he would resign, and perhaps stand again as an independent.  Zac’s constituency is heavily over-flown by Heathrow, and with a 3rd runway, people would lose a large part of the time they currently have “respite” from the noise, due to the current runway alternation. Heathrow has admitted that people would probably only get perhaps 4 hours per day without planes, rather than about 8 hours at present.  But now Zac is understood to feel it would be wasting his constituents’ time to stand again at a by-election, and he would instead step down.  His current majority is 23,000 (with about 43,000 votes out of around 58,000). The Liberal Democrats have held the seat in the past. The departure of Zac could be a worry for Theresa May as the Conservative party’s working majority is only 16.  (The Conservatives have 329 MPs, out of 650).  They cannot comfortably afford to lose any.  Though Boris Johnson and Justine Greening are both deeply opposed to the runway, they have both said they would not resign, and give up their Cabinet positions, on the issue.

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2016/10/zac-goldsmith-likely-to-quit-politics-rather-than-stand-again-as-richmond-mp-if-may-approves-heathrow-runway/

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