Zac Goldsmith in bid to win back Richmond Park seat from Sarah Olney

Bethany Minelle, News Reporter

Former MP Zac Goldsmith is set to put himself forward as the Conservative candidate for the seat he lost less than six months ago, Sky News understands.

The local Conservative association will pick their candidate in Richmond Park later this week, it is understood.

Mr Goldsmith lost the seat to Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney in December.

Sky's Chief Political Correspondent Jon Craig said: "Both the Tory high command and Conservatives locally believe that if they are to regain Richmond Park from the Liberal Democrats, then Zac Goldsmith is their best hope.

"There's also a feeling that he got the Tories into this position by resigning and causing a by-election, so there's a duty on him to try and rescue the situation."

Last year, Mr Goldsmith sparked a by-election in Richmond Park after resigning over the expansion of Heathrow Airport.

The politician had pledged to stand down as a Tory MP if he was not successful in putting a stop to a third runway at the west London airport.

Calling the decision to allow the expansion "catastrophic" and saying it filled his constituents with "dread", he went on to stand as an independent in an attempt to return as the constituency's MP.

However, his political career was left in tatters when the Lib Dems overturned the massive 23,000 Tory majority in the southwest London constituency.

Ms Olney won 20,510 votes, a majority of 1,872 over the pro-Brexit Mr Goldsmith, who won 18,638 votes.

Following his defeat, Mr Goldsmith said: "This by-election that we just had was not a political calculation, it was a promise that I made and it was a promise that I kept."

While all three main candidates were opposed to Heathrow expansion, the Lib Dems were spectacularly successful in turning the by-election into a referendum on Brexit.

Mr Goldsmith was also chosen as the Tory candidate for London mayor in May 2016, but was decisively beaten by Labour's Sadiq Khan.

He also faced fierce criticism for the tone of his campaign, which critics - including many Conservatives - claimed was racist.

With Brexit fast becoming the defining issue of the forthcoming General Election, it is likely to again be the focus of the Richmond Park campaign.

The staunchly Remain-voting seat could prove a challenge for pro-Brexit Mr Goldsmith.

He may also find it hard to run on an anti-Heathrow expansion ticket, given that Prime Minister Theresa May has said it is the right decision for Britain, "vital for the economic future of the whole of the UK".

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