Sarah Olney accuses Theresa May of running scared at Richmond Park hustings

Sarah Olney joked that Theresa May is running scared of the Liberal Democrats’ nine MPs in a hustings in the Richmond Park last week.

Olney is defending a wafer-thin majority against former MP Zac Goldsmith just months after she ousted him in a by-election.

During the debate at Richmond Adult Community College, she quipped that the Prime Minister’s excuse to the call the election – that other parties were seeking to disrupt Brexit – was a great compliment to the Liberal Democrats.

She said: “Theresa May when calling the general election explicitly said it was because of the Liberal Democrats – all nine of us. I’m quite proud of that!”

Councillor and former speech-writer for John Major Lord True, standing in for Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, didn’t find the Lib Dems’ peers in House of Lords quite as amusing.

He said: “[They] have said they would use their power to grind government to a standstill and were doing so.

“Electing Liberal Democrats to the Houses of Parliament will encourage those unelected 100 to continue with their tactics of disrupting government.”

But Olney again tried to inject some humour when Peter Jewell, representing Ukip, argued Lib Dem leader Tim Farron could not negotiate effectively because he’d not had a ‘proper job’ since he worked in education.

Olney responded: “I’m slightly amused that you think Tim Farron is going to be leading the negotiations with the EU – in my dreams perhaps!”

She also claimed May’s aggressive tone since Brexit and several policy reversals had been noticed in European capitals and reiterated the Lib Dem promise to give voters a say on the final Brexit deal.

Lord True hit back, saying the best Brexit outcome depended on a majority government so the EU would know any negotiated settlements would stick and only the two main parties could offer that.

“Really this is an argument for Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn having the authority to do that,” he claimed.

The peer also claimed it was a privilege to stand in for the billionaire and former mayoral candidate Goldsmith, who he rated as highly as any of the MPs he’d worked with in his time in government.

“As a local person, and remember you’re electing a local MP, I’ve not worked with anybody with his commitment to serve his constituents,” he said in his opening remarks.

The Lib Dems have won three out of the four elections in the affluent south west London constituency, which voted by 72% to remain in the EU, and Olney brought six year affair with the Tories to an end in a by-election last December.

Goldsmith’s support for Brexit helped Olney achieve a 30.4% swing in her favour and a slim majority of 1,872 votes (4.5%).

Wednesday’s YouGov poll found the Lib Dem vote share had fallen to just 7% across the country, some 37 points below the Tories on 44% and 29 behind Labour on 36%.

The Lib Dems regularly achieved double figures in polls a month ago.

Olney was quick to point out she had spent the afternoon visiting Kingston Hospital with current and former Lib Dem leaders Tim Farron and Nick Clegg, where the 20% of the nurses are EU nationals.

She said: “I think it’s utterly, utterly disgraceful that Theresa May has not yet made a unilateral guarantee of EU nationals’ rights to stay in this country.”

Lord True was having none of it however, saying it was Brussels, not the Prime Minister, who was to blame for the deadlock.

There was greater consensus on the other major local issue of Heathrow expansion, which all candidates strongly oppose, though Olney was quick to point out the Conservative manifesto explicitly supports the third runway.

But the Tory representative slipped in the buzzer beater that Goldsmith would have more success opposing the policy than Olney in the House of Commons as a Conservative MP than a Labour or Lib Dem.

He promised: “We will stop it, we will stop these people!

“And if you think electing Zac Goldsmith is going to be a vote for Heathrow then I do say Sarah you should have been around a little bit more.”

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