Sarah Olney wins Richmond seat from Zac Goldsmith, on anti-Brexit agenda – while both strongly oppose Heathrow runway

When the Conservative government announced it was backing a 3rd runway at Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith (MP for Richmond) resigned. He had said even before the May 2010 election that he would do this, and as a matter of principle, he did so.  The by-election was therefore triggered on the issue of Heathrow, largely because Richmond is badly affected by plane noise from landings every few minutes, for over half of most days. The Liberal Democrats, with only 8 current MPs, (now 9)fought the seat on the issue of Brexit, and their candidate, Sarah Olney has now won – with a margin over Zac of around 1,800 votes. (Richmond was a held by the LibDems until 2010). Sarah Olney, who only joined the LibDems in 2015, is also very much opposed to Heathrow expansion, so will carry on the fight against the runway. Her primary focus, however, has been Brexit. Richmond is one of the constituencies that voted most strongly for Remain, and so Sarah’s campaign was about Brexit – with everyone appreciating that all candidates (except one minor one) were against the runway. Those who backed Zac will be saddened that his principled stand, which is regrettably rare in politics, has been hijacked in order for the LibDems to get another MP.  Zac is widely acknowledged to have been an excellent MP.  Opposition to the runway will continue in Richmond, as the area would lose half of its “respite” period without planes overhead, it the expansion was allowed.  Tania Mathias, who leads local MPs against Heathrow, has already congratulated Sarah on her win, and said she looks forward to working with her.


Richmond Park by-election: Lib Dems’ Sarah Olney defeats Zac Goldsmith in Brexit backlash

2.12.2016  (Telegraph)

By Barney Henderson

The Liberal Democrats candidate Sarah Olney has defeated Zac Goldsmith, overturning his huge majority, in the Richmond Park by-election.

She won 20,510 votes compared to Mr Goldsmith’s 18,638. The Labour candidate, Christian Wolmar, got 1,515 votes.

Mrs Olney said the result was a rejection of the “politics of anger and division”.

“We will defend the Britain we love. We will stand up for the open tolerant, united Britain we believe in,” she said.

“The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government, and our message is clear: we do not want a hard Brexit. We do not want to be pulled out of the single market, and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win.”

Mr Goldsmith said: “This by-election that we just had was not a political calculation, it was a promise that I made and it was a promise that I kept.”

Mr Goldsmith quit as Tory MP in protest at the Government’s plans to build another runway at Heathrow.

Following his resignation from the Conservatives, the party announced it would not put forward a candidate to challenge the Richmond Park seat.

The Lib Dems tried to switch the focus of the campaign to Brexit in the staunchly Remain constituency.

Mrs Olney, 39, is a newcomer to politics having only joined the Lib Dems in May 2015.

A North Kingston resident for six years, she is a qualified accountant and works at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. She is also chairman of North Kingston Liberal Democrats.

Pressed on the first things she will begin working on as an MP, she said: “Brexit and Heathrow were the two key things we fought this campaign on, so those are the two priorities when I get into parliament.”

Ms Olney said she now wanted Parliament to “override” the Brexit referendum.

“It does look now as if we can have a vote in Parliament that might override the referendum. And I will, obviously, be voting to Remain because that is always what I have believed,” she told Sky News.

Asked if she would actively resist Brexit as an MP, she said: “Absolutely. Now I’ve been given this mandate.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said the result would make no difference to Brexit plans.

He said: “Commiserations to Zac Goldsmith on his defeat. Zac has been a strong and principled champion for the residents of Richmond Park and North Kingston over the past six years as their Member of Parliament, and a popular figure in the Conservative Party. We are sorry that he is no longer in the House of Commons.

“This result doesn’t change anything. The Government remains committed to leaving the European Union and triggering Article 50 by the end of March next year. In addition, we will continue to take decisive action in the national interest to secure the UK’s place the world – supporting a third runway at Heathrow to secure jobs and business opportunities for the next decade and beyond.”

Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader , said the “message is clear”.

“The Liberal Democrats are back and we are carrying the torch for all of those who want a real opposition to this Conservative Brexit government,” he said.

“We are the only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united, and the only party that has said, loudly and proudly, that we want Britain to remain a member of the Single Market and that we want the people to be given the final say over the Brexit deal. That message has been resoundingly backed by the people of Richmond Park.”


[Asked at one of the local hustings events whether, if Sarah Olney won, Zac would continue to fight Heathrow as hard as he could, Zac replied that he would. So the questioner commented that if he voted for Sarah, he would get two people both opposing the runway plans ….. AW note].

Zac Goldsmith: “Whatever the outcome I will fight on for the environment and against Heathrow.”

On 25th October, 2016 Zac resigned. 

He said: “I promised you if my party won the election, the third runway would be scrapped. And I wasn’t making it up.”

He added: “There was no small print, no expiry date, no ambiguity. It was a simple promise. And it mattered. I know it mattered, because the thought of Heathrow expansion fills most of my constituents with dread.”

Mr Goldsmith said the government had chosen the “most polluting, most disruptive, most expensive option” but it had “also chosen the option with the least chance of being delivered”.

He added: “The sheer complexity, cost and legal difficulties mean it is unlikely ever to happen. It will be a millstone round this government’s neck for years.”

“This election must be a referendum on Heathrow expansion”


On 7th October 2016 he said

(speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4) “My position is the same as it was nine years ago.

“I promised my constituents before I was ever elected in 2010 that I would trigger a by-election were the Government to give a green light to Heathrow expansion. My position has never changed.

“I’m committed to my constituents, I’m committed to fighting this campaign and I’m committed to winning this campaign – and I have every confident that will happen.”

Mr Goldsmith added: “There are huge question marks about whether a third runway could even be delivered, irrespective of the Government’s decision in the next week, two weeks, three weeks or so.

“The legal risks are immense. You’ve got the councils under the flight path lining up with big cheque books waiting to challenge these proposals.

“There are huge planning risks, there are financial risks.

“Heathrow is massively over leveraged already, there is no prospect of their being able to raise the finance necessary to deliver this project without turning to the taxpayer.

“Whatever the Government decides, this project is not going to happen. In five years’ time, 10 years’ time, we’ll still be arguing about it.”

The Liberal Democrats have defeated Zac Goldsmith to win the seat of Richmond Park, south-west London.

2.12.2016 (New Statesman)

Goldsmith resigned from the Tory party and contested the by-election as an independent, citing his opposition to a third runway at Heathrow. But the Lib Dems fielded Sarah Olney – who only joined the party in 2015 – and fought a campaign on their opposition to Brexit. Goldsmith backed leaving the EU in June.

Olney received 20,510 votes to Goldsmith’s 18,638 – overturning his previous majority of 23,015. The Greens, Ukip and the Tories did not stand a candidate. Labour, along with the smaller parties, lost its deposit.

Sarah Olney becomes the Lib Dems’ ninth MP – and their only woman in the Commons.

She said: “The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government, and our message is clear – we do not want a hard Brexit. We do not want to be pulled out of the single market, and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win.”

As my colleague Stephen Bush wrote yesterday, the Lib Dems have been increasingly bullish about their prospects in Richmond Park all week, despite an early poll of the seat which put them well behind: “Richmond is ripe with the voters that the Liberal Democrats believe represent their path back: affluent, educated, part of that small group that might not have voted for Tony Blair and David Cameron, but felt the benefits of both administrations, and, broadly, hasn’t been actively distressed by the result of an electoral contest – other than the European referendum.”

The result in Richmond will make many in Labour and the Conservative party nervous. For Tories who won their seats from Lib Dems in 2015, this is a sign that there is a small but significant block of voters for whom Brexit is a motivating issue. (Nearly three-quarters of voters in Richmond voted Remain.) For Labour, the concern is that a political discussion polarised around pro/anti-Brexit lines leaves them out of the picture – as has happened in Scotland, where the narrative is framed around independence/unionism.

This is the second good result for the Lib Dems’ anti-Brexit strategy: in the by-election on 20 October, they reduced the Tory majority in Witney by 20,000. The Oxfordshire seat, previously held by David Cameron, is also affluent and Remain-voting. The party has also done well in local elections since the referendum, particularly in the south-east of England.

However, don’t start ordering your “Prime Minister Farron” baseball caps just yet. By-elections are notorious for wild swings, and the Lib Dems’ polling is still low nationally . Plus, the party threw the kitchen sink at Witney, with the leadership privately saying that they had activists braced for an autumn general election, who would instead be deployed there.

Also in “smaller parties quite chipper” news, the Greens are claiming credit for the win, saying that by not fielding a candidate, they helped the Lib Dems defeat a “regressive alliance”. In 2015, the Greens received 3,548 votes in Richmond Park, while Goldsmith was defeated by 1,872.


Zac first said he would resign if his party backed a Heathrow 3rd runway, in the election campaign in 2010

15.10.2010 (Telegraph)



Mr Goldsmith said he would not vote along party lines if he felt any issue had a negative impact on residents if he was elected as Conservative MP for Richmond Park.

Mr Goldsmith a told hustings in this constituency he would step down if a David Cameron Government cut services at a local hospital, did a U-turn on blocking a third runway at Heathrow or introduced parking charges in Richmond Park.

Asked by BBC Radio Four Today presenter James Naughtie at a local hustings if he would tell parliamentary whips to “stuff it” if he disagreed with policy, Mr Goldsmith replied “absolutely”.

The millionaire ecologist told the meeting, organised by Richmond Chamber of Commerce: “There are various things I have said in this campaign with absolute certainty.

“I said there will be no Heathrow expansion under our Government, there will be no charges for parking in Richmond Park and Kingston Hospital will be safe.

“If any of those promises are broken I will trigger a by-election and allow people to penalise my party.”

Mr Goldsmith had been odds-on to win the seat from incumbent Liberal Democrat candidate Susan Kramer, but has seen his standing suffer because of the row over his non-dom status.

Last November Mr Goldsmith, the green adviser to David Cameron ….




AirportWatch note

The LibDems were the main reason why the government could not go ahead and back a Heathrow runway sooner. Being in Coalition from 2010 to 2015, the Conservatives could not back any runways, as this was opposed by the LibDems.  Hence they set up the Airports Commission, with the aim of putting the runway issue “into the long grass” for several years, so work could be done by the Commission in order to get a runway built sooner, once the Coalition government ended.

The LibDems played an important role in slowing down the process of Heathrow getting a runway.  And their policy was that there should be no new runways, largely on climate grounds.   Zac Goldsmith, by contrast, often intimated that a new runway was needed somewhere, but did not go quite as far as to say it should be at Gatwick.

However, at the party conference in 2015, Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Ed Davey tried to get the party to agree to a runway at Gatwick.  Conference refused to allow this, and voted against it. The party’s policy remains that there should not be any new south east runways.