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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Why Zac will not be able to keep his by-election focussed on a single issue

The predictable announcement by the Transport Secretary that the Tory Government plan to build a third runway at Heathrow was followed by the equally predictable resignation of Zac Goldsmith as MP so he can fight a by-election as an Independent opposed to the plans.

The catch of course is that the Tories will not oppose him, so the chances are that if he is re-elected he will end up back on the Tory benches, part of a government which is going to go-ahead with the expansion anyway. He couldn't even be bothered to properly scrutinise the Minister before falling on his sword. Is that the sort of effective representation Richmond Park electors want?

There was also major disappointment in some quarters that Boris Johnson looks like he will not fulfill his promise to lie down in front of the bulldozers. You can't have everything in this world it seems. But the key question has to be can Zac actually make this a single issue election. My view is that he can't.

Over 70% of the Richmond Park electorate voted to remain within the EU. The main challengers to Zac the Independent Tory comes from the Liberal Democrats, who are strong remainers and opposed to the Heathrow expansion. The fact that the only two credible candidates agree on the main issue gives voters latitude to base their choice on other factors. In this regard Zac Goldsmith is out-of-tune with his constituents.

And it is not as if membership of the EU is irrelevant to the Heathrow issue, it is in fact highly pertinent. The EU recognises that air pollution harms our health and our environment. As such a new EU air quality strategy pursues full compliance with existing air quality legislation by 2020 and sets new long-term objectives for 2030.

Europe has also passed an Environmental Noise Directive to help identify noise levels within the EU and to take the necessary measures to bring them down to acceptable levels. Separate legislation regulates noise emission from specific sources.

As this fact sheets says the European Parliament has repeatedly 'stressed the need for further cuts in limit values and for improved measurement procedures with regard to environmental noise. It has called for the establishment of EU values for noise around airports and also for the extension of noise reduction measures to cover military subsonic jet aircraft. [The European] Parliament has succeeded in protecting the power of local authorities to decide on noise-related measures at airports, including possible bans on night flying.'

If we leave the EU we lose that protection. Instead the people of Richmond Park and their neighbours will be at the mercy of a UK Government which believes that airport expansion is more important than the environmental considerations which surround it. And Zac, for better or worse will be part of that government, either having rejoined the Tory Party or as a Tory Party backed Independent.

Zac Goldmisth may want this by-election to be about a single issue but he is going to learn that even clear cut matters such as opposition to an infrastructure project do not exist in a vacuum. The future of Heathrow and our membership of the EU are intertwined and Zac Goldsmith is on the wrong side of the argument.
I like an epigram about Johnson which is doing the rounds, crystallised in an Indy headline: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/heathrow-will-boris-johnson-lie-down-in-front-of-the-bulldozers-he-was-happy-to-lie-down-the-side-of-a7380086.html.
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