The Richmond by-election offers a perfect opportunity for Labour to get its voice heard as the real party of opposition to this destructive and chaotic Tory government.
There have been suggestions that Labour should not stand in this election, since the Tories have withdrawn and we need to unite around an-anti Brexit candidate. This would be a big mistake. Labour needs to show that it is a national party able to attract votes everywhere.
Moreover, it is unclear whether the Lib-Dem candidate, Sarah Olney, is that committed to opposing Brexit. She refused to say whether, in Parliament, she would actually vote against the enactment of article 50.
I can say categorically that if elected, I would vote against it. I feel that the Referendum was conducted on such dishonest terms that Parliament – or the electorate – needs to vote on the issue before a decision is made whether to leave the EU. The 48 per cent – 72 per cent in Richmond – needs to be represented. I will be the anti-Brexit candidate and as such the one who best represents the views of the majority of its constituents. Leaving Europe will be such a disaster for Britain, as many recent news items have revealed, that we must do everything in our power to prevent it.
Labour needs to fly the flag here. We may be facing a general election within a year. To absent ourselves, abandoning our voters and demonstrating nationally that we are not up for the fight, would be a big mistake.
The decision by the Greens not to stand increases Labour’s chances of attracting much greater support, provided we have the right candidate. When I campaigned to obtain the Labour candidacy for the 2016 London mayoral, I did so on a very strong environmental manifesto. Moreover, as a result, I changed the tenor of the whole debate. At the first hustings, Sadiq Khan endorsed my policy of pedestrianising Oxford Street and included it in his manifesto. He has already introduced another of my ideas, the Bus Hopper fare enabling bus passenger to travel on more than one bus for the same fare.
I also strongly opposed Heathrow expansion, a policy that Sadiq initially endorsed, but then opposed. This will be a key issue in all the by-election debates and although all the main candidates are opposed, the fact that I have long campaigned on the issue, speaking at anti-third runway meetings for several years, will stand me in good stead and show that I have always understood the issues and been on the right side all along.
There are several other areas where Labour can express its distinctive voice. Housing is the key issue facing London, and Labour’s support for genuinely affordable new homes, based on social housing, is the only viable solution. Crucially, and most fundamentally, being anti-austerity must be a cornerstone of Labour policy, in contrast to the Lib-Dems, who were in partnership in the Coalition that introduced it in the first place. That does not mean blindly opposing every cut or change in government spending patterns. It does, though, mean having a coherent economic alternative, based on investment, supporting small businesses and tackling poverty. Redistributing income from the very rich, who tend to salt it away, rather then spend it, to the less well-off is not only an equitable policy, it is a rational one in economic terms.
This will be a high-profile campaign and a vital one for Labour. We need to show that we are a united and coherent force, able to garner votes in every type of constituency. I hope I can be the candidate to ensure that happens.