MP: Sarah Olney (Lib Dem)
Conservative-Lib Dem marginal
If the Lib Dems are going to capitalise on frustrated Remain voters and improve on their current standing of nine MPs, then Richmond Park is a constituency they will expect to retain. Richmond Park voted to Remain by 72 per cent in the referendum, and before losing it to the Conservatives in 2010 it had been a Lib Dem seat since it was created in 1997. However, there have been a few twists and turns that perhaps make the seat more unpredictable than it would otherwise be.
Firstly: Zac is back, and fighting his third election in his just over a year. After losing comprehensively to Sadiq Khan in last year’s London Mayoral election, Goldsmith returned to his day job as Richmond Park MP. Not long after, the government announced that a third runway for Heathrow had been approved, an issue that will affect the constituents of Richmond Park. Goldsmith had always stated that he would resign as a Conservative if this happened, so he triggered a by-election and stood as an independent. The Lib Dems, smelling blood, poured a considerable amount of resources into the seat and emphasised his support for Brexit. Despite the Conservatives’ refusal to field a candidate, Goldsmith lost, a majority of almost 30% overturned. He returns to contest the seat in June, but is now standing as a Conservative once again. Keeping up?
Although Sarah Olney and her party will be relatively confident that they can win, Goldsmith’s presence makes it an interesting, and considering his profile and history, fairly personal, fight between the two candidates. His decision to rejoin the Conservatives despite the fact that their position on a third runway has not changed could well count against him, as could his stance on Brexit. However, the Conservatives are riding high in the polls at the moment, and Theresa May’s approval ratings are higher than they were at the time of the by-election. Additionally, by-elections usually have lower turnout rates and are often used as a way for voters to protest against the current Government, making a Conservative victory in the general election more likely. Olney will hope to keep their coalition of Remain voters, capitalising on low levels of Labour support and the probable absence of a Green candidate. Whatever happens, this seat will certainly be a litmus test for the chances of a Remain-propelled Lib Dem revival.
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Jack Bridgewater is a doctoral researcher in English party politics and identity at the University of Kent. He tweets @JLBridgewater