Green-tinged Tories dig in to save endangered Zac Goldsmith in Richmond

Jonathan Prynn
Zac Goldsmith with voter Manda Lakhani in Richmond, where he faces a strong challenge from Lib Dem Sarah Olney: Jeremy Selwyn

The Tory tree-huggers are out in force for Zac Goldsmith — and he will need all the help they can give before the general election next week.

The multi-millionaire environmentalist faces his own extinction rebellion in this corner of south-west London.

Polls point to the 44-year-old minister being ousted once again as MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston by the Liberal Democrats’ Sarah Olney in the early hours of next Friday morning.

In 2017 the result was not confirmed until 7am, when he scraped over the line with a 45-vote majority — the fifth slimmest in the country.

Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Richmond Park and North Kingston constituency

This week Mr Goldsmith, a former editor of The Ecologist magazine, roped in another conservationist Tory — the Prime Minister’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds — to help him out.

On Twitter Ms Symonds, pictured with Downing Street’s new canine resident, Jack Russell-cross Dilyn, wrote gushingly in support of Goldsmith — whose winning campaign she managed in 2017.

She tweeted: “Few have done more to champion the environment & fight for the welfare of our animals. As someone who cares deeply about these issues too, I would be devastated it he wasn’t there fighting for them in Parliament.”

His brother, environmental philanthropist Ben Goldsmith, also rallied round, saying: “There aren’t enough genuinely nature-loving MPs. Zac was rescuing birds and hedgehogs aged six. Pls re-elect him Richmond Park!”

Crunch seat stats

2017 GENERAL ELECTION

Con 45.1%, LD 45.1%, Lab 9.1%, Ukip 0.7%

2016 By-ELECTION

LD 49.6%, Ind 45.1%, Lab 3.6%

2019 EURO ELECTION

(Richmond upon Thames)

LD 52.3%, Brexit 16.1%, Green 10.7%, Con 7.9%, Lab 4.7%

2016 BREXIT VOTE

Remain 71.3%

It is a message that the Tory candidate pushes hard on the doorsteps of London “villages” such as Barnes and Kew.

The environment minister said: “I’ve got a good story to tell locally. People here care a lot about the issues I’m focusing on in Parliament — conservation, the environment, climate change.

“I don’t think I’ve spoken at a single school in the last two years where that hasn’t been the first and probably last question that I’m asked. I don’t think there’s anyone in Parliament who’s working harder on these issues or has been in the last decade than me. If the scientists are right, and it’s hard to dispute them, then they dwarf Brexit.”

That might be so but the reality in this campaign is that Brexit dominates everything. And on that subject he has a less persuasive story to tell. Mr Goldsmith, who was first elected to the seat in 2010, is an ardent Leaver in a constituency where 72.3 per cent voted Remain.

Ms Olney, who held the seat for six months after she won it in a by-election almost exactly three years ago, knows that this is his Achilles heel.

“A lot of people appreciate his record as local MP,” she said. “But his problem is that this is a pivotal time for the country and he is out of step with his constituents. However well he does locally when he goes to Parliament he does not vote the way his constituents want him to.”

The 42-year-old accountant, who works at Hampton Court Palace, feels “optimistic” about winning back a constituency that has ping-ponged between the Tories and Lib Dems over the past 22 years and where Labour — whose candidate this time is Sandra Keen — polls a very distant third.

Ms Olney said: “In 2017 people didn’t like Brexit but they trusted Mrs May. They don’t feel that in Boris.”

On the doorstep, the Tories are trying a “vote Lib Dem and you get Corbyn” message — but with limited success.

Nurse Alexis Paulson-Ellis, 40, who is married with three children, said: “I voted Conservative in 2017 but this time it’s very difficult. I’m a Remainer, I’m a grandchild of immigrants on both sides, Poland and Ireland, I’m proud of being British but also I feel very European.

“I’m afraid I’m not sure Zac has done a good sell on Brexit, but I’m one of those people who will leave it to the last minute to make up my mind.”

Manda Lakhani, 54, a charity trustee and strategic consultant, who is married with two children, 21 and 23, said: “I still feel it’s a Brexit election. Zac is the only person I would consider talking to as a Tory... If it was all about local issues you would 100 per cent have my vote. But with Boris Johnson the biggest issue for me is can you trust him? I feel that Boris was part of the campaign that was misleading people and he’s been shown many times to be not truthful and that for me is very important at this time in politics.

“He’s got a lot of charisma but the qualities I’m looking for in a prime minister are truth, integrity, honesty and compassion.”

One local voter with those qualities in spades is Sir David Attenborough. He said he would vote for Mr Goldsmith at the last election but this time he is refusing to reveal his preference insisting that “It’s a private vote”.

It is an endorsement that Mr Goldsmith could do with if he wants to stave off electoral oblivion.

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