Tactics reduce candidates for Richmond Park by-election

Plane flying over Heathrow sign Image copyright EPA
Image caption The by-election was triggered when Zac Goldsmith resigned over the government's decision to back Heathrow expansion

The battle for Richmond Park has become more curious for those who are not standing, rather than those who are.

With nominations closing on Tuesday, this is a by-election set to be contested by a small field because of a large dose of electoral tactics.

So far Zac Goldsmith, now flying under the colours of an Independent, has been joined by Sarah Olney for the Liberal Democrats and Christian Wolmar for Labour.

But there will be notable absentees, as parties give the contest a miss for strategic reasons.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Zac Goldsmith first won the seat from the Lib Dems in 2010

The Conservatives are not putting up, with a belief that Goldsmith may have proved seriously "awkward squad" over Heathrow, but he's still their "awkward squad" and an otherwise commendable and dedicated local representative.

Party figures also ask how well a pro-Heathrow and pro-Brexit Tory candidate could actually do in the seat anyway.

Leaderless UKIP has also declined the opportunity, wanting to give a clear run to the fellow Brexiteer Goldsmith.

He - incongruously for some - extended his grip on the seat at the 2015 election, despite his Euroscepticism in a very Europhile patch of south-west London.

Will such tolerance of his views hold or will punishment be doled out from a constituency which voted 70/30 to remain in the recent referendum?

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sarah Olney is the Liberal Democrat's candidate

The Greens believe there might be such an opportunity, which is why they too have opted out of the race - a decision backed by their leader Caroline Lucas.

The party have decided that only if the "progressives" adopt a cold electoral strategy and unite behind one anti-Brexit candidate - in this case the Liberal Democrats - could the punishment be administered.

Their calls did not fall entirely on deaf Labour ears, with a small group of its MPs recommending withdrawal before the idea was squashed by the party's ruling NEC.

It is understood a fair few voices suggested the same thing at the Labour selection meeting on Saturday from which veteran transport writer Wolmar emerged victorious.

Image caption Writer and broadcaster Christian Wolmar is standing for Labour

Some pro-European campaigners have not yet given up hope that a split in the anti-Brexit/anti-Goldsmith vote can be avoided.

The lobby group Common Ground is trying to drum up support for an online "primary selection" process which would culminate in a public meeting where the Lib Dem and Labour candidates would go head-to-head for the "authority" to take on Goldsmith alone.

This would be informal and have no binding impact but might offer some indication of the likely extent of any tactical voting.

But all those in the race now say they are very much planning to stay there.

The declared candidates are:

  • Zac Goldsmith, Independent
  • Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrats
  • Christian Wolmar, Labour
  • Fiona Natasha Syms, Independent
  • Howling Laud Hope, The Official Monster Raving Loony Party
  • Maharaja Jammu and Kashmir, One Love Party
  • David Powell
  • Dominic Francis Stockford, Independent

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