Zac Goldsmith has been selected as the Tory candidate for Richmond Park for the 2017 general election. I think if anyone other than Zac had run there, the Tories would have had a very good chance of retaking this seat. As it stands, I think the Lib Dems will hold it, just.
The reason for this is simple: we very recently witnessed a by-election in which Zac was rejected. And as many have said before, voters never liked being asked a question twice (although we see if this holds in Scotland sometime in the near future). For whatever reasons, they didn’t warm to someone who had said he would stand down if Heathrow expansion was put forward by the government, but then took that pledge to actually mean “trigger an unnecessary by-election in which Zac stands as a quasi-independent in the hopes this won’t annoy constituents”. As we found out last December, it did annoy those very same people.
It is hard to see how the voters of Richmond Park will take kindly to Zac standing as a Tory again. Wasn’t the point of standing down to leave the party? I’m really confused on what the point of Goldsmith “standing down” was exactly now, actually, so let’s try and unpack it. I thought at one point his pledge to stand down over Heathrow was about personal responsibility; as in, his job was to convince his party Heathrow expansion wasn’t a good idea (in his view) and that if he failed to do this, it was on his shoulders. Or at the very, very least, he was in the wrong party. Him being reselected as a Tory candidate in the same constituency appears to negate both of these points as far as I can see.
Two things to caveat here. One, the Tories’ logic in reselecting Zac is obvious. He will pay for the campaign himself, meaning this is a no-lose situation for the Conservatives: either they gain back a seat for free, or they don’t happen to gain a seat back that, let’s be frank here, they are not really going to need. Two, despite everything I’ve just said, I would far from rule out Zac winning back Richmond Park. If he runs a decent campaign, you have to think about the fact that he gets to ride the Tory tsunami. When your party’s national poll rating goes up 10-odd percentage points from the last general election, that will inevitably improve your chances of victory, whatever local factors are in play.
So the Lib Dems can take nothing for granted. But their job in south west London did just get a little bit easier.