2017 General Election Diary Day 8: Some lights in the depths of the tunnel

I achieved something today. By not watching Prime Minister’s Questions at lunchtime, I’ve successfully avoided watching it for an entire Parliament, and I really don’t feel I’ve missed out at all. Now, can I manage to do the same for BBC Question Time if I hold out for the next few weeks?

We seem to be hitting a slight turning point in the election buildup as news turns from who’s not standing to who actually is going to be up for election in June. Having had a week to get themselves together, local branches of all parties are having selection meetings and putting candidates into place, with some former MPs rushing to get themselves back into Parliament. Esther McVey has rushed to fill George Osborne’s Tatton seat, which means that while he’s off to become editor of a newspaper despite having no experience in journalism, he’s being replaced as an MP by someone with journalistic qualifications and experience.

In further ironic replacements, after their former MP Zac Goldsmith quit the party over Heathrow expansion to stand in an ultimately futile self-inflicted by-election, Richmond Park Conservatives have tonight selected a Conservative Party member who’ll be committed to the party’s manifesto which includes Heathrow expansion. The new candidate, coincidentally also called Zac Goldsmith, and sharing a similar background to his predecessor, is clearly not the same person because that would be silly and there’s no way they’d select the man who not only forced them into an entirely pointless by-election but somehow contrived to lose it.

Oh, it turns out they have, and it’ll no doubt turn out he made a pledge not to stand if there was a snap election because all words are now completely meaningless.

Tenuous link news takes us from Richmond Park, where the Greens didn’t stand a candidate in the by-election and supported the Liberal Democrats instead, to Brighton Pavilion where local Liberal Democrat members have tonight decided that they won’t be standing a candidate so as to improve Caroline Lucas’s chances of re-election in the seat. Maybe, just maybe, this might indicate that the circular firing squad is lowering its weapons and realising that there might be a better way of doing things.

One last piece of non-selection news: David Ward is not the Lib Dem candidate for Bradford East. From what I’ve been able to piece together, it seems that a loophole in the rules made him eligible for selection and his local party took advantage of that, and a few discussions at party HQ found a way to close that loophole and kick him out again.

The floaty heads of electoral doom will not be seen this year.
In other news, Jeremy Corbyn has achieved something today in making sure that TV debates won’t happen for this election. If everyone but Theresa May was ready to turn up, they might well have gone ahead and empty-chaired her, but now he’s said he won’t attend if she doesn’t, he’s now taken away any pressure there was on her to attend as well as meaning that broadcasters won’t be rushing to arrange debates without both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. So, everyone can join in a slow handclap for the strategic geniuses who though that up.

And finally, we turn to Election Leaflet Of The Day…but there isn’t one. Sadly, the only leaflets to have gone up on the site today (despite me waiting until really late to do this post) have all been local election ones. It’s like calling a snap election when no one’s prepared for it and lots of people are focused on the local elections for the next week means there are few general election leaflets being delivered right now. If you do get one, then do make sure you upload it as right now there’s a good chance it’ll be featured here and it might be seen by dozens of people.

Early morning thoughts after Richmond Park

richmondparkIn a year of waking up to so much bad news, today has finally brought some cheer to 2016 with the news that Sarah Olney has defeated Zac Goldsmith to become the new Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park. Congratulations to her and the team who delivered this result – yes, it was a winnable by-election, but it still had to be won, and that takes a lot of effort from a lot of people to achieve.

The #LibDemFightback takes a big step forward

This is a great result for the party – the first by-election gain since Dunfermline and West Fife over a decade ago – and a continuation of the trend from local council by-elections of big swings from Conservative to Liberal Democrat, especially in areas that voted Remain in June. It’ll give a massive boost to campaigners across the country, and will likely result in more media coverage and attention. It may even prove to be one of those by-elections that helps to kickstart a rise in the opinion polls as a result of the new focus and coverage. The result should give Tim Farron and the party a bigger platform, now it’s up them to use it.

Progressive alliances can work

Richmond Park offered us a sight not seen since the 80s: multiple party leaders campaigning for a single candidate. The decisions by the Greens and WEP to not stand candidates in favour of endorsing Sarah Olney were as welcome as they were unexpected, and the narrowness of the result (Olney’s majority is smaller than the Green vote in 2015) means they were very likely a critical factor. I’ve said before here that we need to find ways to work together, and this bold step will hopefully lead to a whole lot more. Caroline Lucas and Jon Bartley deserve a lot of praise for making this happen, and for facing down those in their party who were opposed to it. Hopefully, this is the start of something between the parties, not just a one-off.

The question of working together could be a key issue across a lot of parties over the next few months, and might prompt some interesting divisions and new alliances. We’ve seen Scottish politics shift massively over the last few years as independence and unionism become the two key poles of political competition, might the rest of the UK now follow suit and realign around pro-European and pro-Brexit poles? When a Tory MP is cheering on a Lib Dem by-election victory, the tectonic plates of British politics might just be shifting a little bit more.

Labour losing their deposit: all of this has happened before and will happen again

Labour’s vote share fell from double figures to just 3.7% and they lost their deposit. Surely, this must mean they’re going to be wiped out at the next election? Maybe, except exactly the same thing (right down to the 3.7%) happened in the 2000 Romsey by-election, and they did OK in the 2001 election, as I recall. They also slumped lower than that when the Lib Dems gained Newbury and Christchurch at by-elections, which didn’t harm Blair too much in 1997.

Yes, the circumstances are different, but this feels more like a good old fashioned tactical squeeze of the Labour vote rather than some Corbyn-related calamity. Anecdotal evidence from people campaigning in Richmond Park was reporting a big anti-Goldsmith switch from Labour voters, eager to punish him for his nasty campaign against Sadiq Khan in May. There’s not really much good news for Labour in this by-election, but the bad news isn’t as bad as some will make it out to be.