The journey from home to Kingston Academy is not one I’ve made before, nor probably ever will again but, for the record, the bit from Wellingborough station involves the tube to Richmond and the 65 bus from outside the station to the school (2.5 hours each way on a good day).
Yesterday evening I attended a hustings in the Richmond Park constituency organised to let the candidates talk about environmental issues. This was chaired by Dominic Dyer (very well actually) and included all four candidates who were (in reverse alphabetical order of first name: Zac Goldsmith (Con), Sarah Olney (LibDem), Sandra Keen (Lab) and Caroline Shah (Independent)(and for ease, not familiarity, I will refer to them by their first names in what follows (it cuts down the keystrokes for me too)).
Both Zac and Sarah have been the MP in this seat and (Susan Kramer, another former LibDem MP here, was sitting in the audience and also sits in the House of Lords). Zac had a majority of 45 votes in 2017 on a 63,000+ turnout – quite impressive for a Brexiteer in a strongly Remain seat. He is, of course, a DEFRA and DFID minister.
Each of the candidates had a few minutes to set out their views on the environment: Zac was eloquent and knowledgable, Sarah clear and accurate, Sandra was going well for c30 seconds and then couldn’t continue and played little further part in the evening (whether this was nerves, illness, or what we weren’t told) and Caroline spoke very well on very local issues.
I’ll come back to Caroline Shah in a later blog for, in many ways, her contribution was the most interesting of all.
But this seat is a Con/LibDem marginal and it will almost certainly boil down to a fight between Zac and Sarah. You’d have to say that the environment, and this was an environmental and wildlife hustings, is Zac’s home territory. If he can’t look good on this subject, then he may not be able to look good on anything, whereas Sarah does not have anything like the same deep background in these issues.
I had come to this event, hardly on my back door, for two main reasons, first to support the event because if environmentalists aren’t interested in such events then who will be? and second to answer a question that had been rattling around my head.
The question was ‘Would I vote for Zac Goldsmith?’. The background to this is that I think Zac is one of the best MPs in Parliament on the issues about which I care deeply. If there were more like him, the world would be a much better place for farm animals, wildlife and us. Let’s get a few more plus points out of the way here: Zac is also charming, handsome, eloquent and knowledgable. These are plus points but maybe not clinchers in securing my vote. There are some quite big negatives though. First, Zac is an ardent Brexiteer and I am a thoughtful, considered and committed Remainer. Brexit of course came up in the evening’s discussions and I didn’t agree with some of what Zac said on the subject (Sarah was much closer to the truth on the role of the CAP in wildlife declines than Zac in my humble (but quite well-informed) opinion). But he is a Brexiteer – and a real one (ideologically and emotionally committed).
Zac is also, I’ve noticed, a Tory, and I have never voted Tory in my life – I have voted Green (I think entirely in EU elections), LibDem (where they were most likely to beat the Tories) and Labour (usually). Could I vote Tory?
There was a very good question from the audience (amongst many) which basically asked whether the small-government, market-forces, Tory approach could solve climate change and Zac had to argue that it would. He didn’t convince me and he didn’t even shift my ‘no’ to a slightly less firm ‘no’ which was reassuring for my self-esteem but it did remind me that he is a Tory.
I think Sarah said, or hinted at, the fact that Zac is such a good environmentalist shouldn’t fool anyone that the Tory party gives a monkey’s about this stuff as a whole. Look around at some of Zac’s colleagues. Do I want Dominic Raab, James Cleverly, Priti Patel, Liz Truss or Therese Coffey having anything to do with setting the agenda for the environment – no thanks! And voting for Zac is, partly, voting for all of them too. I do not want a Tory government but I do want a strongly environmental parliament.
There must be lots of other things that are negatives about Zac, many of which I don’t know, but one that sticks in my mind is his campaign for Mayor of London which I thought was shockingly mud-slinging and borderline racist at times (he was still handsome but not at all charming then).
So the reason I came to the hustings in Kingston Academy was to answer, for myself, the question ‘Would I vote for Zac Goldsmith?’. Would I vote for someone who is, as a minister, but also formerly as a backbench MP, a force for environmental good despite the fact that he is a Tory Brexiteer in a party with some people for whom I would never, ever, ever vote?
I left the event a while before it finished and on the 65 bus, half way back to Richmond station I answered my question. Yes, I would vote for Zac Goldsmith.
But actually, I will be voting for Beth Miller (Lab) in the Corby constituency as Tom Pursglove (Con) is no Zac Goldsmith.