Toby Young Toby Young

In defence of Zac Goldsmith

He’s that rare creature in contemporary politics, a man of principle

I’m baffled by the reaction to Zac Goldsmith’s decision to resign as the Conservative MP for Richmond Park. It is being interpreted, even by MPs on his own side, as an act of opportunism, a chance to rehabilitate himself with the metropolitan elite after his bruising defeat in the London mayoral election. Surprisingly few people seem willing to entertain the idea that he might be acting on principle.

Exhibit A in the case for Zac’s defence is the fact that he’s the MP for Richmond Park in the first place. Zac could have applied to be the candidate in any number of safe Conservative seats in 2010 and, given his profile, easily have been selected. Yet he chose a seat that was held by a Lib Dem with a 3,731 majority. His friends and political allies told him he was insane. Even if he won, they pointed out, he’d then face the prospect of having to defend a marginal seat. Not only would that mean he’d have to spend every spare moment in the constituency, but his political career could be unceremoniously cut short, as Michael Portillo and others have discovered. Nevertheless, he stuck to his guns because Richmond was the area he’d lived in all his life.

Then there’s the fact that he kept his promise to seek the consent of his constituents before entering the London mayoral race. MPs break promises all the time, but you’d be hard pushed to find an example of Zac doing that. Indeed, the reason he’s resigning and re-fighting his seat is because he promised the voters of Richmond Park that he would do precisely that if the government decided to expand Heathrow.

Some people have uncharitably claimed that he’s risking very little. He won the seat in 2010 with a swing of 7 per cent and increased his majority in 2015 to 23,015, although in pointing that out his critics are inadvertently acknowledging that he’s been an exemplary constituency MP.

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