Election watch (4) – the Number 65 bus

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).

But why?

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.

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7 Replies to “Election watch (4) – the Number 65 bus”

  1. I didn't see him, but I wouldn't. Labour has done a fantastic job of dumping what I'm sure you'd agree, mark, was a very creditable term in power up to 2010. And the Conservatives seem to have got almost clean away with what I predict we will come to see as the lost decade. Whatever any individual MPs qualities, they have to bear responsibility for membership of the last Government, but worse than that their laisez-faire, market, philosophy is driving us over the cliff edge - fast.

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  2. Why is being handsome a plus point? Or charming, frankly. Eloquent is surely a neutral thing, depending how you use the ability.

    You'd have been much better going on the train than the tube, probably to Kingston itself, though it's a faster service to Richmond. And did you enjoy being told at every stop which bus you were on, like you had dementia?

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    1. m parry - well, you try putting 'gracelss, ugly' into that sentence and see whether it would be neutral or negative.

      I did enjoy the reassuring messages about where I was on the bus actually. Was there more than one? Some people travelling on buses do have dementia of course.

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  3. I too have never voted Tory and I suspect never will, although a natural fairly left Labour supporter since the mid eighties I have lived in either Harrogate or Montgomery so I have generally voted Liberal to beat the Tories, except in the immediate aftermath of the coalition.
    Remember this Mark a vote for Goldsmith ( racist brexiteer) is in the end a vote for that right wing chancer Johnson, Priti Patel, Raab, Truss and all the other appalling Tories. The only good Tory is a Lavatory.

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  4. Thanks for this post, mark..I too wondered just how the few MPs or prospective MPs with real environmental interests balance that with whatever their party is currently spouting on any subject. Although we have heard way more about 'environment' in this campaign than any recent one, it has nearly all been about climat echange, renewables and maybe a bit of treeplanting. Whilst important issues, thats not 'Environment'... no understanding of the subjects from those on the campaign trail means they will never get an airing but then, most of the public have no interest or knowledge of the wider environment issues..........The only literature I have had from South Cambridgeshire candidates focusses on health, education and to a lesser extent on the continued promotion of the growth of Cambridge....more like a local election.

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  5. As you say, voting for Zac Goldsmith would also be voting for Dominic Raab, James Cleverly, Priti Patel, Liz Truss, Therese Coffey and 'pants on fire' Johnson. However sound Goldsmith's views on the environment may be I think the net result of voting in a Tory government would not be beneficial to the environment. The only election in which I could contemplate voting for Goldsmith would be one in which his election did not entail assisting his party into government (at any geographical scale).

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  6. Thanks Mark, what a thoughtful and interesting blog post. When talking of buses I'm always reminded of Margaret Thatcher's quote that anyone on them over the age of 25 is a failure. Although it is still debated whether or not she actually said it - see here https://fullfact.org/news/margaret-thatcher-bus/ The more relevant question in relation to your post I suppose is would you ever see Zac on the 65 bus? I think probably not. There are committed environmentalists in all parties but sadly too few of them. I don't know Zac but take your word he is that camp. Individuals who are committed can make a difference but only really if they get a senior job in government. Most MPs of course never do. Which is why manifestos, even if they dont deliver on them, are so important as they commit the party. For me committing to net-zero carbon emissions within the timescale demanded by the science and dealing with the biodiversity crisis are what will determine my vote. I look forward to your analysis of the manifestos. Nick

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