In the grand scheme of things, the Richmond by election caused by Zac Goldsmith resigning from Parliament in protest over the Government’s decision to back a third runway at Heathrow is pretty much a non event as far as any significance is concerned. It will change nothing, it will not change the Heathrow decision nor will it overturn Brexit.
As for the LibDems winning it, not really a surprise, if they couldn’t win in Richmond where 70% supported Remain, they wouldn’t be able to win anywhere, all they have won is a consolation prize of no great significance.
The British Media
Interestingly the media is also less interested in what this means for the LibDems than what it means for the Labour Party. As London and the metropolitan classes generally voted for Remain and in Richmond 70% did, a pro EU candidate from the LibDems where being pro EU is an article of faith, was pretty certain to win against a ‘Leaver’ standing as an Independent and without the support of a ‘party machine’.
Therefore and as by the same token, the former ‘Labour heartlands’ in the North of England and Wales voted heavily for ‘Leave’ and Labour is very unsure of its EU stance, it makes them vulnerable to having quite a number of seats taken from them by a reinvigorated UKIP at future elections. The impact of this given the rather dishevelled and ineffective performance of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn would be a pretty total fragmentation of opposition forces to the Conservatives right across the UK leaving them (Tories) with the prospect of several future general election victories with substantial majorities in the future.
Of course that is pure speculation because many other factors could come into play both here and abroad that might change that in one way or another. The Economist took a similar line: http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2016/12/zac-goldsmith-defeated-liberal-democrats
I posted a reply to that Economist article which I reproduce below with a couple of additional bits of information to broaden out the argument.
Broadly speaking I would agree with the main thrust of this article however, trying to predict the immediate or medium term future of British politics is a bit of a mugs game right now, there are far too many variables in the mix.
The problem with the Brexit negotiations is that David Cameron’s rather foolish decision to call the referendum when he did without factoring in the possibility of him losing it, has left us in Limbo. The truth is that regardless of Article 50 in March, nothing serious will happen until the dust has settled on the Dutch, French and German elections, almost a year away. However Brexit may well not be the biggest game in town for the UK.
Italy and therefore the Euro may crumble, we have a very different new man in the Oval Office and Russia will remain a continuing threat to European peace and tranquillity. Worse, China may have a serious financial crisis, the point is that this by election is not a signpost of any merit. It most certainly doesn’t represent a meaningful revival for the LibDems, they would need a lot more than this to get back to where they were under the Coalition Government let alone prior to the 2010 election.
To put that into perspective, after the 2005 General Election they had 62 MPs but despite the unpopularity of the Brown Government, come 2010 that dropped slightly to 57. However and after 5 years in the Coalition, they were virtually wiped out in 2015 winning only 8 seats, Richmond now gives them 9, Hooray ! The SNP have a far louder anti Brexit voice than the LibDems.
How the Brexit deal will be struck will be interesting but unlikely to show any real shape until 2018 in terms of any real details. However and regardless of the outcome there is one key thing that both the Leavers and Remainers need to accept, there is no going back, love it or loath it but that result changed the game forever not just for the UK but also the EU and all member states. The real problem for the EU has been stalking it for these past 8 years, it is not Brexit, it is what to do about the Euro and Italy may be the one who decides that, they buried Greece but they can’t do the same to Italy, its economy and population is far too big.
Despite all the “wooden top” utterances from the EU, the reality is that the UK a net contributor to the EU Budget, leaving combined with the Euro like some demented ‘Road Runner’ having gone off the edge of the cliff some time back, things within the EU will change and likely long before the ‘divorce’ negotiations are completed. It is as much the impact of events beyond our borders that will impact UK domestic politics, where we are today is a ‘Phoney War’ period.