Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Voters Should Not Be Fooled

You can never have too much Peter Oborne:

Very rich men who go into politics almost invariably turn out to be duds.

There are a handful of exceptions to this rule, such as Michael Heseltine, who made a fortune in publishing before becoming a Tory MP. 

However, in my experience, the rule is immutable when it relates to those who inherited family wealth rather than made their own successful way in life. 

Inevitably, they fail to understand the daily struggles of voters. 

In short, they are spoilt brats, self-indulgently playing politics because they think they have a God-given right to rule. 

Zac Goldsmith is a prime example of spoilt brat syndrome.

His father, tycoon-turned-politician Sir James Goldsmith, sent Zac to Eton for the best start in life. 

There is, it must be admitted, no question that Zac Goldsmith is charming, with an affable self-deprecating manner. 

You can meet plenty of men like him in London’s clubland, on exclusive golf courses and in overseas tax havens. 

Easy-going and none too bright, they live agreeable but empty lives. 

Zac Goldsmith, who gives the impression he’s bestowing a favour on his fellow MPs by joining them in the Commons, differs from most idle rich in one unusual way. 

Along with his wealth, he insists he is a man of virtue and high principle. 

Voters should not be fooled. 

It is easy to be as virtuous and principled as Zac Goldsmith portrays himself to be if you can afford it.

Most Tory MPs are not wealthy enough to risk their careers by resigning and then standing as an independent.

To be fair to Mr Goldsmith, he promised in his manifesto last year that he would precipitate a by-election if a Tory Prime Minister decided to build a third runway, in support of constituents opposed to extra aircraft noise and pollution.

Mr Goldsmith is entitled to argue that he would have been breaking faith with his constituents if he went back on his promise.

He’s also entitled to argue that this kind of principle is all too rare in the increasingly sordid world of high politics.

So far, so good!

However, Mr Goldsmith was elected as an MP on the Tory ticket.

Plenty of other Tory MPs have constituencies close to the airport.

Yes, Boris Johnson (Uxbridge) and Justine Greening (Putney) have fought Heathrow expansion, but Mr Goldsmith was the only one who drew attention to himself by pledging a by-election.

There is, furthermore, a price to be paid for his apparent heroic self-sacrifice.

That price will not, needless to say, be paid by Mr Goldsmith himself.

It will be paid by his fellow Tory MPs, who must now add the challenge of Heathrow to a growing list of issues as they battle their way through one of the most testing periods in recent political memory.

Prime Minister Theresa May enjoys a tiny majority as she fights to press through with Brexit. 

At a time when she needs every last Tory vote in the Commons, Mr Goldsmith has selfishly quit the fray.

To put it brutally, he’s placed his own vanity above loyalty to his colleagues.

But there is a darker reason why Mr Goldsmith’s act of treachery is hard to swallow.

Although keen to present himself as a highly principled moral crusader, it should not be forgotten that last summer he fought one of the nastiest political campaigns in recent history.

He stood as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London against Sadiq Khan, a well-respected Labour MP. Mr Goldsmith didn’t fight solely on the issues affecting Londoners, as any decent politician would have done.

Instead, he and his allies targeted Mr Khan, shamefully trying to exploit his Muslim religion.

Leaflets sent out by Mr Goldsmith’s campaign accused Mr Khan of being a ‘divisive and radical’ politician — seen as a coded message directed at those who might be uncomfortable with the prospect of a Muslim mayor.

These tactics, profoundly at odds with British tradition of not attacking a rival’s private faith — even indirectly — were pretty unpleasant and, ultimately, Goldsmith failed.

The Guardian wrote that: ‘Goldsmith is no decent man of principle. He’s a discredited politician who ran a vile racist campaign and he deserves only contempt.’

On this occasion, I believe The Guardian was right.

Only two British political campaigns since the Second World War bear comparison with Zac Goldsmith’s unscrupulous attempt to capture City Hall.

One was the Bermondsey by-election of 1983 when Peter Tatchell, the Labour candidate, was relentlessly targeted on account of his homosexuality.

The other was the Smethwick campaign in the West Midlands in 1964’s general election, when the Conservative candidate, Peter Griffiths, campaigned on the disgraceful, racist slogan: ‘If you desire a COLOURED for your neighbour, vote Labour’. 

Griffiths’s revolting campaign was successful, but he was ostracised by MPs for the rest of his career. Tory MPs may think Mr Goldsmith should be, too.

Even his much-vaunted green credentials are suspect.

Ten years ago, David Cameron gave Mr Goldsmith a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by putting him in joint charge of a Tory commission to shape its policies on the environment.

However, Mr Goldsmith was too lazy to take advantage — putting no obvious effort into the task and failing to force through his green agenda.

Cameron soon abandoned the green policies that will forever be associated with his egregious Arctic huskies photo-shoot stunt.

If ever there was a principle for environmental-campaigner Zac Goldsmith to champion, Cameron’s betrayal of his green crusade was it.

Yet, as far as we know, there were no resignation threats.

Maybe Zac Goldsmith didn’t want to rock the boat because, as a fellow Old Etonian, he was one of Cameron’s allies.

Indeed, it was a result of Cameron’s backing, that Mr Goldsmith was chosen to fight the prize seat of Richmond Park — which enjoys a considerable Tory majority — ahead of more deserving candidates. 

Today, Mr Goldsmith has repaid that privilege by turning on the party which launched his political career. 

Ultimately, the livelihood of millions of British citizens depends on the third runway at Heathrow being built. 

The rest of us should applaud the decisive act of Theresa May after more than ten years of indecision from the Blair, Brown and Cameron governments.

Yet, Zac Goldsmith, at Mrs May’s time of need, has stabbed the Tory Party in the back in a gesture of grandstanding self-indulgence.

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