The Lib Dems win in Richmond Park won’t stop Brexit, but it is significant for other reasons.

Zac Goldsmith, who lost his House of Commons seat in last night's by-election in Richmond Park.
Zac Goldsmith, who lost his House of Commons seat in last night’s by-election in Richmond Park.

The result of yesterday’s by-election in Richmond Park is an interesting one in that although it may foreshadow a somewhat remarkable political comeback for the Liberal Democrats, it is extremely unlikely to actually change anything.

When Zach Goldsmith forced this by-election following his resignation from Parliament over the Government’s approval of a third runway at Heathrow Airport, he did so to honour a promise he had made to his prospective constituents prior to being elected in the 2010 and 2015 General Elections. He hoped that he would be comfortably re-elected to served as a quasi-independent champion for those against the expansion of Heathrow. But, with all the major candidates running in this by-election being against Heathrow expansion the Liberal Democrats were able to turn the by-election into a referendum on Goldsmith’s support for Brexit, with candidate Sarah Olney pledging to vote against the triggering of Article 50 and to “resist Brexit in its current form”. In Richmond Park, whose residents voted more than two-to-one in favour of remaining in the European Union, this strategy seems to have worked. The Liberal Democrats were able to overturn Goldsmith’s majority of 23,000 with a swing of 30.4 percent, to ultimately win by almost 2,000 votes which, in a seat which Goldsmith was widely expected to retain, is quite some margin. The Lib Dems pro-EU stance clearly helped them win, but as Editor of The Spectator (and Richmond Park constitutent) Fraser Nelson recognises, it was also “it was a victory for good, old-fashioned campaigning. And the fact that it was, in effect, a two horse race. A referendum on Zac, and his decision to call a by-election.” The two-horse race point is particularly significant with the results suggesting that many who would ordinarily back Labour, switched to the Lib Dems to block Goldsmith. Labour candidate Christian Wolmar received 1,515 votes, which is less than the number of Labour members who live in Richmond Park, whilst there was also reports that many Labour activists were campaigning on behalf of the Lib Dems in the days before the vote. What this comes back to though is Goldsmith’s Brexit stance which, in a constituency as pro-Remain as Richmond Park, was never going to go down well.

But, although the Lib Dems victory was impressive, and there pro-EU message clearly had a significant effect, it is not really going to change the direction of travel. In short, despite what the Lib Dems have promised in campaigning for this by-election, Brexit will still go ahead. The Lib Dems now have nine MPs who will vote against Article 50. The SNP have indicated that all their 55 MPs will vote against Article 50, whilst five Labour MPs (David Lammy, Catherine West, Daniel Zeichner, Geraint Davies, and Owen Smith) have said that they will vote against the triggering of Article 50, as has Conservative MP Ken Clarke. This would make seventy MPs voting against Article 50, not nearly enough to ‘overturn’ the referendum by voting down Article 50. So to suggest that last night’s Lib Dem victory in Richmond Park will change the course of Brexit is pretty absurd.

Where it might have an effect however, is in highlighting the views of those 48 percent of voters who didn’t back Brexit, which may in turn lead to the Government pursuing more of a ‘soft Brexit’, i.e. leaving the European Union but looking to remain a part of the Single Market. This is something that many in the Government would likely support, and David Davis and Boris Johnson have both indicated that they may support something like this. Davis indicated yesterday that the Government would strongly consider a deal which involved paying into the EU budget in return for Single Market membership, whilst Boris Johnson is reported to have sad that he’s in favour of the continuing free movement of people between the EU and the UK.

However, overall this by-election is set to have a relatively small (if any) impact upon the direction of policy. Where it may have an impact is in the re-alignment of the political parties on the back of a Liberal Democrat resurgence. As Leader, Tim Farron has looked to establish the Lib Dems as a so-called ‘party of the 48 percent’, and the results in the by-elections in Richmond Park, and last month in Witney, suggest that he is being successful in doing so. Farron described last night’s result as, “ a remarkable, come-from-nowhere upset that will terrify the Conservatives.” It seems a bit strong to suggest that it will terrify the Conservatives, but it could certainly give the Conservatives some difficulty at the next General Election. Remember that it was typically Conservative surges in Liberal Democrat seats which secured them their majority at the 2015 General Election, and many of these seats like Bath, Cheltenham, Kingston and Surbiton, and Twickenham voted Remain in the EU Referendum. It would be unsurprising to see swings towards the Lib Dems in these constituencies similar to what we’ve seen in Witney and Richmond Park. In addition there are the likes of Wokingham and Chipping Barnet which both voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU but are occupied by Conservative MPs who backed Brexit, John Redwood and Theresa Villiers respectively. It would be unsurprising for the Lib Dems to also challenge in these seats.

But, arguably it is not the Conservatives who are giving the Lib Dems a way back. Given that the Conservatives have a huge lead in the polls (with a recent poll putting them on 44 percent — a lead of sixteen over Labour) losing a few seats to the Lib Dems isn’t really going be a blow to their chances of forming a majority government at the next general election. It is Labour who should really be fearing the resurgence of the Liberal Democrats. Labour’s terrible showing in Richmond Park highlighted their weaknesses, and this could allow the Liberal Democrats to squeeze them nationwide. Labour are going to forced to take a decision on whether or not they back Brexit very soon. Given the number of Labour constituencies which backed Brexit, the Labour Party are going to be forced to back Brexit or face seeing a UKIP surge under Paul Nuttall do the same to them in Northern England and Wales, as the SNP did to them in Scotland. But, this stance could have a negative effect in the urban areas which voted Labour in 2015 but also voted to remain the EU. It remains to be seen, but it does not look as if these voters have particularly warmed to Jeremy Corbyn, and so their vote is arguably up for grabs. What the Richmond Park result (and Labour’s terrible showing) highlights is the Labour Party’s complete lack of a voice on Europe.

The vote in Richmond Park was effectively a futile protest vote against the UK leaving the EU, and as a result it won’t exactly have the Conservatives running for cover. However, the same cannot be said of Labour. What the resurgence of the Liberal Democrats proves is that they have opponents everywhere. In Scotland, the SNP took almost all of their seats in 2015, and Labour show no signs of winning them back, having fallen to third in the polls behind the Scottish Conservatives who have surged on the back of Ruth Davidson’s strong leadership. In England, the Conservatives dominate Labour in all of the swing seats which are essential to forming a majority government — in the South and West of England, Labour are polling lower than ever. In the North of England, this week’s election of Paul Nuttall as the new leader of UKIP could put the squeeze on Labour at the next general election in areas which voted heavily for Brexit. Whilst the Lib Dems resurgence proves that Labour can’t be complacent in urban areas either.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats will be celebrating their win in Richmond Park and what they may see as a nationwide resurgence, Labour will be worried, as they are now truly teetering on a cliff edge.

Under Eddie Jones England could once again reach the heights of 2003.

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Eddie Jones is in the process of turning the England team into world beaters. 

 

On Saturday, the England rugby team continued their perfect record under coach Eddie Jones with a 58–15 victory over Fiji at Twickenham. If we include the thrashing of Uruguay at the end of the 2015 World Cup (Stuart Lancaster’s last match in charge of the side), England’s winning streak now stands at twelve matches, and in that time they have won a Six Nations Grand Slam, defeated Australia three times, and beaten South Africa for the first time in ten years.

These exploits have led to the team already being considered one of the favourites to win the 2019 World Cup in Japan, and emulating the England team which became world champions thirteen years ago today. There are a lot of similarities between the side that became world champions thirteen years ago, and the team which Eddie Jones is in the process of sculpting at this moment.

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This team looks as though it could emulate England’s 2003 World Cup winners. 

 

Similarly to the current team which suffered heartbreak in crashing out of the 2015 world cup on home soil having failed to advance beyond the group stage, the 2003 squad suffered a similar failure. In the 1999 World Cup, the England side which contained many of the players who would go on to become world champions were demolished by South Africa in the quarter finals. This loss bred a desire and focus in the side which hadn’t been quite so evident before, and all the evidence suggests that the 2015 debacle has had a similar effect on the current side.

In addition, the current side has a similarly phenomenal depth of talent as the 2003 side had. In 2003, head coach Clive Woodward was able to leave players of the quality of Graham Rowntree, Simon Shaw, Austin Healey, and James Simpson-Daniel out of his final 30-man world cup squad without this impacting upon quality, such was the depth of talent from which he could pick. Eddie Jones has the similar luxury of a deep talent pool today. Prior to the ongoing Autumn Internationals, several key first team players had been ruled out of action. Despite missing James Haskell, Maro Itoje, Jack Clifford, Manu Tuilagi, Jack Nowell, and Anthony Watson among others, England have still managed to field a side that would be considered the envy of many other nations. Even with all the injuries players of the quality of Danny Cipriani, Dan Robson, Joe Simpson, Christian Wade, Matt Kvesic, Matt Symons, Paul Hill, and Jackson Wray don’t make the cut. For Eddie Jones, such a selection dilemma is a brilliant luxury to have.

All the signs suggest that this England side is destined for greatness, and for that a lot of credit should go to Eddie Jones who has got the team playing the an exciting and dynamic fashion that they have got close to in the recent past. However, some credit should also be reserved for his predecessors in the role, particularly Stuart Lancaster who unceremoniously left the role of head coach following the World Cup. The nucleus of the current side were capped for the first time under Lancaster, and he should be given some much deserved credit for their rise to prominence. It was Lancaster who placed faith in Owen Farrell and capped him as a twenty year old in the 2012 Six Nations Championship, Farrell now has 45 caps and has been twice nominated for the IRB World Player of the Year, meaning that he is widely considered one of the best in the world in his current position. Equally, the likes of Joe Launchbury, George Ford, George Kruis, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Alex Goode, and Jack Nowell, all first established themselves under Lancaster, and it was in Lancaster’s team that they properly learned the ways of international rugby. Lancaster is often denigrated for his time as England coach, but in fact he achieved a lot, it was simply a case of him lacking the experience to take England to that next level, which is what Eddie Jones has done. Equally, the likes of Ben Youngs, Danny Care, James Haskell, new captain Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, and Dan Cole, first established themselves under Martin Johnson, and with these players now comprising the nucleus of such a good team, he should also take some credit for their rise. As I said previously it was simply that someone like Eddie Jones was required to move England into the world class bracket, and put them in with a chance of properly competing for the World Cup in 2019.

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Stuart Lancaster deserves credit for blooding most of England’s star players. 

Overall, this England team is one that could be remembered as one of the best England teams in history. With such a great talent pool to pick from, and a brilliant coaching team of Jones along with Steve Borthwick, Neal Hatley, and Paul Gustard, it is a team that is going to go far.

It is rare for an England supporter in any sport to begin watching a match expecting to win, but the quality of this England team is such, that that is exactly what every England supporter will be feeling when they tune into Saturday’s match against Argentina.