In the mayoral election, why did Zac Goldsmith get such a low vote in his own backyard?

Zac Goldsmith’s bid to become London mayor was memorably described as a “dog whistle campaign in a city with no dogs.” And few places in the capital demonstrate that better than Richmond Park itself.

As the local MP you would have thought his personal vote would make it a walkover. First preference mayoral votes, a good indicator of popularity, in Richmond Park shows that Boris Johnson won his second term in 2012 by a greater share in all but one of the constituency’s eleven wards compared to Zac in 2016.

The differences by ward are Coombe Vale (-3), South Richmond, North Richmond, Mortlake & Barnes (all -4), Ham & Petersham, East Sheen, Kew, Barnes (all -5), Canbury (-6), Coombe Hill (-8), and on the plus side for Zac, Tudor ward (+0.04).

As an incumbent running for re-election Boris would have benefited from greater recognition but also hampered by voters who disagree with actions in office. In Richmond Goldsmith had all the benefits of name and face recognition in his own patch but none of the drag caused by unpopular decisions. The mayor contest wasn’t a referendum on the government, so why did Zac lag behind 2012 Boris in his own backyard?

The only reason I can see is that Conservative voters in Richmond were turned off by the negative campaign against Sadiq Khan. The Lynton Crosby-inspired London Tory campaign repelled ethnic minorities and white voters alike. Even Goldsmith’s ridiculous “Hindu Gold” leaflets targeted at wealthy Indians, suggesting Khan wanted to tax inheritance jewellery, fell flat for the hapless Zac.

The chances are the memory of the mayoral campaign is still fresh in the minds of disappointed Richmond Park voters. Equally in this post-Brexit era Goldsmith’s anti-Europe stance will jar even more with constituents in one of the most pro-EU areas in Britain. And with the likelihood that all by-election candidates will oppose the third runway, this contest is shaping up not so much as a referendum on Heathrow as a referendum on Zac Goldsmith.

* Lester Holloway is a former councillor and member of the Equalities Policy Working Group, and a member of the Race Equality Taskforce

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  • Andrew Toye 27th Oct '16 - 1:26pm

    It should be said that Lynton Crosby is only an advisor for the Conservatives – anyone standing for a position of leadership should take responsibility for what they say or what is said or written on their behalf. Politicians (of all parties) should have the confidence to stand up to the spin doctors and refuse to allow their name to be associated with something that is wrong. And yes, I think we should make sure that we are applying this to our own campaigns.

  • Mark Goodrich 28th Oct '16 - 4:29am

    You have to look at both leading candidates. I think the major reason for this vote drop is that Sadiq Khan was a much more attractive candidate than Ken Livingstone.

  • Lester Holloway 28th Oct '16 - 10:00am

    @MarkGoodrich – Livingstone remained pretty popular across parts of London in 2012, but in Richmond Red Ken’s vote did dip, probably as a result of unpopularity. You are right that the share of the Tory vote is determined by the share other parties get, clearly. However the reason I highlighted the Richmond Park seat is because of the assumption some would have made before the mayoral poll that Goldsmith would do better in his own constituency than an outsider (Boris) did when seeking re-election. He fell back. So yes, Khan being ‘more attractive’ than Ken would have made a difference in all probability, but it would be natural to expect a ‘Zac factor’ in his own seat to counteract that, and ward results suggest there wasn’t. The overall turnout was lower in 2012 but it is not easy to calculate the impact a higher turnout would have made in 2012 or precisely which party’s supporters stayed at home, although we can make a rough educated guess.

  • Khan attracted personal votes, it seems. There is an argument going on in Labour at the moment as to whether they support us Lib-Dems in Richmond in order to beat the Tories. It hinges on their own chances. Labour beat us in the London elections in that area and therefore, they say we will not win. Others say that the high Labour vote was not because many people in Richmond favour Labour over us, but simply because they were impressed by Khan as a person. Compass wants an agreement with us in order to start a progressive alliance against the Tories, but my gut feeling is that the general public do not like electoral pacts. However, many people do respond to tactical voting. So can we provide up to date evidence that if people do not want Zac, then they had better vote for us ?

  • Matt (Bristol) 28th Oct '16 - 10:59am

    I hope Lester is right, and Richmond Park constituents saw through the horribleness of the mayoral campaign and its profound jarring of the image Goldsmith had previously carefully cultivated.

    I had heard however, that some RP constituents voted against him because they wanted to retain him as their MP. It would not be possible to evidence this, I suspect…

  • Richard Underhill 28th Oct '16 - 11:28am

    David Cameron re-iterated Zac Goldsmith’s shameful campaign at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Hansard has been published.

  • Andrew McCaig 28th Oct '16 - 12:13pm

    No doubt who is currently in second place in Richmond Park…

    But also Goldsmith is popular…

  • Ronald Murray 28th Oct '16 - 12:48pm

    Are US style Mayors actually needed?

  • Matt (Bristol) 28th Oct '16 - 1:13pm

    Ronald – that is another whole can of worms.
    Needed? I don’t think this party would ever agree that they were needed everywhere.
    An option to be considered, possibly (though the jury is out and there are strong voices against it).
    What is needed is devolution and democratic accountability.
    At least the London arrangement includes the Assembly, elected relatively proportionately, in contrast to every other mayoral settlement in the country, and a level of power that is an itty-bit closer to that of the devolved nations, than just being a pooling of borough councils.

  • Rebecca Taylor 28th Oct '16 - 1:14pm

    Richmond people have told me that Goldsmith’s pitch as “a nice Liberal sort of Tory” was successful in attracting voters who might not otherwise vote Tory. However the nasty rhetoric of the mayoral campaign goes against that image entirely, which (as Lester suggests) may well have been the main explanation for a lower than might be expected vote share in the mayoral elections.

  • Andrew McCaig 28th Oct '16 - 1:39pm

    On the subject of the article, Goldsmith got 35% of the 1st preference vote across London compared to 44% for Boris Johnson, so should we not be expecting his vote share to be 9% lower in the Richmond Park wards? And therefore Goldsmith outperformed expectation in all his “home” wards?

  • Lester Holloway 28th Oct '16 - 2:22pm

    @AndrewMcCaig – Goldsmith did better in Richmond Park than his London average, yes, but the ‘donut effect’ has seen a higher Tory vote in places like this since 2000. I’m arguing that Goldsmith fell below expectations in Richmond Park given that he was the local MP there. I think @RebeccaTaylor is right about the ‘nice Liberal Tory’ image being shattered by the mayoral campaign. We can see from Sadiq Khan in office that insinuations linking him to extremism were about as far from the mark as can be. The only radical positions we’re seeing from Sadiq are calls for a Brexit opt-out for London and policies to tackle air pollution.

  • You are comparing 2012 when the Tories won with 44% to when they lost in 2016 with 35% (of First Round Votes).

    In London as a whole Tories down 9 points – Zac down 3-8 points in Richmond wards and up in one ward. That is the reality, not the spin.

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