Labour should “put the national interest first” and consider pulling out of the by-election triggered by the resignation of Heathrow activist Zac Goldsmith, three leading MPs said today.
Leading Jeremy Corbyn ally and Shadow Cabinet minister Clive Lewis, shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury Jonathan Reynolds, and backbencher Lisa Nandy use a LabourList article today to argue that the best chance of unseating the Tory would come from staying out of the “vanity project” by-election in Richmond Park.
Goldsmith, who was accused of fighting a racially-charged campaign this year in his failed bid for the London mayoralty, resigned his commons seat yesterday in protest at the Government’s decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow airport . He will stand again as an independent but the Tories will not field a candidate.
Labour came a distant third in Richmond Park, London, at the general election and Lewis, Nandy and Reynolds have suggested the party could stand down in order to give the Lib Dems, last year’s runners up, a free run against Goldsmith.
“With the Tories not standing against him, the fight will come down to a two way contest between him and the Liberal Democrats, whose vote will be split with the Greens and Labour,” they write.
“If there is any chance of kicking Goldsmith out of Parliament, the vote against him must not be split. That’s why we think Labour should consider not standing a candidate in this by-election.
“Not only did Goldsmith bring a new low to mainstream politics with his campaign against Sadiq Khan, but he is a hard Brexiteer willing to throw hard won environmental and workplace protections down the drain despite all his talk of being green.
“His claim that this is a referendum on Heathrow is absurd as his chief opponent [Lib Dem Sarah Olney] also opposes a third runway. This is nothing but a vanity project and Labour should think carefully about playing a part in it.”
However, the MPs are clear that such a decision should only come with the explicit backing of local Labour members in Richmond.
Goldsmith was widely criticised for employing “dog whistle” tactics during his increasingly angry campaign to run London, when he repeatedly highlighted Khan’s Muslim faith. The attacks on Khan ultimately failed as the former Labour cabinet minister won comfortably when second preferences were allocated.
The three described Goldsmith’s campaign as “nasty and racially divisive” in London but the Tory insisted there was a public interest in raising questions over Khan’s associates.
Nandy is a former shadow Cabinet minster, while Reynolds returned to the frontbench as shadow City minister last month.