Ominously for Zac Goldsmith, most of the people who thought Britain would stay in the EU and Hillary Clinton would be president say he will hold his seat in the Richmond Park by-election on Thursday.
In the political prediction business it ought now to be respectable to say “I don’t know”. So I don’t know if Goldsmith will win or if Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrat, will pull off a sensational victory – a victory so sensational that it will immediately be rationalised as completely predictable if only we had had but eyes to see it.
The big question is how strongly the well-educated electorate of Richmond Park feel about Brexit, compared with how strongly they feel about Heathrow Airport and how warmly they regard Goldsmith, their MP of six years.
When I say well educated, I mean the constituency has the highest proportion of graduates in the UK: 64 per cent of its adults hold a degree or NVQ level 4. Level of education is most strongly correlated with support for EU membership. Chris Hanretty of the University of East Anglia estimates that the Remain vote in Richmond Park was 72 per cent.
What experts have said about Brexit
What experts have said about Brexit
1/11 Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
The Chancellor claims London can still be a world financial hub despite Brexit “One of Britain’s great strengths is the ability to offer and aggregate all of the services the global financial services industry needs” “This has not changed as a result of the EU referendum and I will do everything I can to ensure the City of London retains its position as the world’s leading international financial centre.”
2/11 Yanis Varoufakis
Greece's former finance minister compared the UK relations with the EU bloc with a well-known song by the Eagles: “You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can't really leave. The proof is Theresa May has not even dared to trigger Article 50. It's like Harrison Ford going into Indiana Jones' castle and the path behind him fragmenting. You can get in, but getting out is not at all clear”
3/11 Michael O’Leary
Ryanair boss says UK will be ‘screwed’ by EU in Brexit trade deals: “I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. The world will want to screw you – that's what happens in trade talks,” he said. “They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade”
4/11 Tim Martin
JD Wetherspoon's chairman has said claims that the UK would see serious economic consequences from a Brexit vote were "lurid" and wrong: “We were told it would be Armageddon from the OECD, from the IMF, David Cameron, the chancellor and President Obama who were predicting locusts in the fields and tidal waves in the North Sea"
5/11 Mark Carney
Governor of Bank of England is 'serene' about Bank of England's Brexit stance: “I am absolutely serene about the … judgments made both by the MPC and the FPC”
6/11 Christine Lagarde
IMF chief urges quick Brexit to reduce economic uncertainty: “We want to see clarity sooner rather than later because we think that a lack of clarity feeds uncertainty, which itself undermines investment appetites and decision making”
7/11 Inga Beale
Lloyd’s chief executive says Brexit is a major issue: "Clearly the UK's referendum on its EU membership is a major issue for us to deal with and we are now focusing our attention on having in place the plans that will ensure Lloyd's continues trading across Europe”
8/11 Colm Kelleher
President of US bank Morgan Stanley says City of London ‘will suffer’ as result of the EU referendum: “I do believe, and I said prior to the referendum, that the City of London will suffer as result of Brexit. The issue is how much”
9/11 Richard Branson
Virgin founder believes we've lost a THIRD of our value because of Brexit and cancelled a deal worth 3,000 jobs: We're not any worse than anybody else, but I suspect we've lost a third of our value which is dreadful for people in the workplace.' He continued: "We were about to do a very big deal, we cancelled that deal, that would have involved 3,000 jobs, and that’s happening all over the country"
10/11 Barack Obama
US President believes Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU: "It is absolutely true that I believed pre-Brexit vote and continue to believe post-Brexit vote that the world benefited enormously from the United Kingdom's participation in the EU. We are fully supportive of a process that is as little disruptive as possible so that people around the world can continue to benefit from economic growth"
11/11 Kristin Forbes
American economist and an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England argues that the economy had been “less stormy than many expected” following the shock referendum result: “For now…the economy is experiencing some chop, but no tsunami. The adverse winds could quickly pick up – and merit a stronger policy response. But recently they have shifted to a more favourable direction”
But it is also the constituency most strongly opposed to Heathrow expansion, by the less decisive margin of 52 per cent to 37 per cent. The Heathrow effect is complicated because all the main candidates oppose the third runway – Government approval of which prompted Goldsmith’s resignation and caused the by-election.
Goldsmith’s campaign have tried to blunt Olney’s anti-Heathrow pitch by pointing out that her husband worked on Terminal 5. And they make a lot of their candidate having kept his word. He said he would resign if the Government went ahead with Heathrow expansion and he has – even if, they don’t add, it is a fairly pointless gesture.
That said, electing Olney as an anti-Brexit protest would also be a gesture only. There is no question that there is a large majority in the House of Commons for triggering Article 50, if that is what the Supreme Court requires. But if there is a place in Britain where the voters feel a pointless Remainer gesture needs to be made, Richmond Park may be it.
Goldsmith, of course, is a longstanding Eurosceptic, so that is a stark difference between him and his challenger.
There has been only one opinion poll, by BMG, which put Goldsmith on 56 per cent, well ahead of Olney on 29 per cent. But that was a month ago: since then Lib Dem activists have flooded the constituency. In by-elections, opinion can change quickly and turnout is low.
Nor is history much of a guide. By coincidence, the swing needed by the Liberal Democrat, 19.5 points, is almost the same as that achieved by the party’s unsuccessful candidate in the Witney by-election last month, 19.3 points. But MPs do not often stand down and then put themselves forward for re-election, when they might benefit from a local following. David Davis did it in his incomprehensible protest against CCTV and other instruments of the New Labour police state in 2008, and was re-elected. Bruce Douglas-Mann did it when he left Labour for the SDP in 1982, and he lost.
If Goldsmith does win, I suspect his majority will be smaller than the Labour vote. That would re-open the controversy caused by Labour MPs including Clive Lewis, whose views are close to Jeremy Corbyn’s, and who called for Labour to stand aside to maximise the chances of defeating Goldsmith. But Corbyn refused to follow the example of Ukip, who stood aside and backed Goldsmith, and the Greens (also deeply divided on the question), who stood aside and backed Olney.
But if the by-election does come down to the strength of feeling against Brexit and that against the Heathrow third runway, then Olney will win.Reuse content