Battle for Richmond Park: Olney attacks but Zac takes no flack

By Sam Blitz
December 10 2019, 13.15

Of all constituency rivalries in recent years, few have been closer than Richmond Park’s Zac Goldsmith and Sarah Olney.

After a tense 2016 by-election where Mrs Olney’s Liberal Democrats defeated an Independent Mr Goldsmith by 1,800 votes, the now-Tory cabinet member got his revenge six months later – pipping his rival by just 45 votes in the 2017 General Election.

Following the YouGov MRP poll’s prediction that Mrs Olney would snatch Mr Goldsmith’s seat, the pair face another close election battle as Richmond Park voters head to the polls on December 12th.

This rivalry goes way beyond party politics – it is a personal battle which Mrs Olney, 42, puts down to a difference in values.

She said: “Two years ago we lost by such a small amount, and to such an ardent Brexiteer who didn’t really reflect the values of those he represented.

“For him to go to Parliament instead of me was agonising. I’m certainly much closer to the mood of the local residents as far as Brexit is concerned than he is.”

Mr Goldsmith, 44, retorted: “I have a record I can be proud of. I have helped more constituents, secured more campaign wins locally and been more effective in Parliament than my rival.

“There is no doubt in my mind that if the election was decided based on records, I would receive the strong support of my constituents.”

This record includes a strong commitment to climate change, with his cabinet role as Minister for Environment, Food, Rural Affairs and International Development putting him at the forefront of the Conservatives pro-green manifesto.

Mr Goldsmith’s local promises include a new temporary bridge at Hammersmith, 90 new local police officers and to continue the opposition to the Heathrow expansion.

And despite the Unite to Remain pact between the Lib Dems and the Green Party potentially acting in Mrs Olney’s favour in Richmond Park, Mr Goldsmith promised the Conservatives are the party to back on their environment policies.

He said: “With the Greens not standing, the choice for those who prioritise the environment in an election couldn’t be clearer.

“I believe my constituents know that I have worked harder and delivered more for the environment than any other MP and will always continue to do so.

“In the 100 days Boris Johnson has been Prime Minister, we have greatly increased our efforts to tackle climate change and the environmental crisis.

“For example, we have doubled our climate funding, massively increased our funding for protecting and restoring forests and the ocean environment around the world and become world leaders in the battle against the illegal wildlife trade.

“We’ve raised animal welfare standards to the highest they have been and introduced a world-leading Environment Bill to raise environmental standards far higher.”

Meanwhile, Mrs Olney claimed the Liberal Democrats are the antidote to the extremism that Labour Mr Goldsmith’s Conservatives both epitomise.

She said: “We are the party that really represents the moderate, the centre, the pragmatic and I think the only party that actually wants to put the best interests of this country first.

“I’m fighting so hard in this election because I really want there to be a really strong cohort of Lib Dem MPs in the next Parliament and for us to be really influential in the next government.

“I think that’s the best hope of having a moderate, sensible and pragmatic government in this country.”

However, Mr Goldsmith dismissed the notion of a pragmatic Lib Dem vote in Richmond Park.

He said: “There is no ‘middle option’ in this election. We will end up with a Conservative majority, or Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10, supported by the Lib Dems and SNP.

“I want to protect this community from the threat of a Corbyn-led government.

“A win for the Lib Dems in Richmond makes that prospect dramatically.”

Read more about what’s important to south west London constituencies in our 24-page General Election preview special.

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