Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Richmond Park candidate selection

Richard Brett, chairman of the English Liberal Democrats Candidates Committee, has invoked an emergency procedure to select a candidate for the Richmond Park constituency vacated by Zac Goldsmith. This is despite the local choice only three months ago of Sarah Olney. The interpretation in some quarters is that there will be an attempt to return to the Commons one of the senior members of the party turned out by the voters in 2015.

In my estimation this would be a mistake. Any former minister is bound to be tainted by his breaking of his word over raising tuition fees, which is still remembered in constituencies like Richmond Park. A LibDem candidate needs to attract Labour-leaning voters, which will not be helped by standing someone intimately associated with the decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, necessary for the economy though that may have been at the time. They would also be attracted by a party that kept faith with its original selection, rather than parachuting in a star, something we have rightly criticised Labour for in the past.

The campaign will be fought not on Heathrow expansion which virtually all candidates will condemn, but on the effects on local hospitals of decisions by the English NHS under the Conservatives, and by the government's rush to implement Brexit, which Mr Goldsmith supported and which the voters in that part of London rejected in the June referendum. Richmond Park is almost certainly the closest thing to an open goal for the Liberal Democrats in this parliament - certainly before Article 50 is invoked. Why not underline the party's commitment to a more diverse Westminster representation and endorse the selection of a non-elderly non-male?

[Later] I am advised that under the LD constitution Mr Brett had no choice in the matter. In the circumstances of the seat becoming vacant an emergency selection meeting has to be called, even though there is an existing prospective parliamentary candidate. The rest of my message stands, however.

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