I have written previously to applaud the work and views of Zac Goldsmith over at least one of his campaigns. His comments on the environment have at times acted as a very positive influence on the views coming from senior Tory Party mouths, and he was very proactive over the issue of the right to recall, arguing for the rights of constituents to call a by-election if enough of them were dissatisfied with the behaviour of their MP. On both counts, Goldsmith was on the same page as my own MP, Caroline Lucas. That is no doubt true on his current campaign, to block the expansion of Heathrow. Whatever the benefits of expanding Heathrow, it will create enormous problems for those of us living in the South of England on an ongoing basis and in my view this decision fails to consider the real alternatives in terms of Northern transport hubs or indeed the need for us to change our behaviour in terms of travel if we are to achieve some form of environmental sustainability.
Whilst Zac is showing backbone to resign the Tory whip and also to call a by-election, simply asking constituents to return him to the Commons as an Independent MP when he has been a committed Tory for at least 11 years raises all sorts of questions and concerns. The fact that the Tories are not planning to oppose him is a particular worry. They clearly don’t believe he will be that Independent when it comes to other matters. Then there is the question of what happens if he persuades the party to change its position, perhaps unlikely at present but he is certainly not alone amongst Tory opponents of the plan. Will he then fight another by-election to return to the Tory benches? Finally there is the question of how this affects local people. The local Conservative Party has been a strong supporter of Mr Goldsmith, yet they are now to lose him as a member of the party, and are being told through broadcasters that the national party is not wishing to contend the election. This is a case once again of national party politicians dictating to what they sometimes refer to as the grass roots of their party. Perhaps grass cuttings would be a more accurate reference at times such as this. If as I suspect Mr Goldsmith does return to the Conservative Party in due course, will they then be expected to endorse him as their preferred candidate? Or perhaps they are all in this together with Central Office and the change of label is primarily for public consumption and create the hint of rebellion? If so the estimated £240,000 for the by-election, possibly £480,000 if he does go for a return leg will be a complete waste of public money.
If Zac Goldsmith had greater integrity, in the light of the problems his current decision is presenting to the local party and the failure to take his actions seriously by the national party, he would refuse to stand again in the constituency as part of this by-election. He would do what the rest of society is obliged to do, campaign for change from outside the not so hallowed ground of Westminster. His personal support to a suitable Independent MP would no doubt assist that person in getting elected, even though he or she would need to compete with a local Conservative choice for MP. Then at least he would not be tainted as being a pale Tory or an embarrassment to his local party. Independents do not have parties at a local level, they have to find alternative ways to make themselves accountable that are not limited to a few hundred people out of around 70,000.