In January this year Zac Goldsmith and his wife Alice celebrated the birth of their son Max. So it is nonsense to say that Zac has had a bad year. An event like that is far more important than the ups and downs of a political career. However, it is true that the electorate have not been kind to him. He was defeated both as Conservative candidate for Mayor of London and then as an independent candidate in last week’s Richmond Park by-election.
Now that the man is down the media have taken the chance to give him a good kicking.
It is part of the rhythm of the political cycle that the post-match analysis is simplified. Whichever side lost gets attention paid to how their campaign was completely hopeless – while the winning side is presented as having conducted a flawless performance.
So that much is all pretty unexceptional.
But what has been rather startling has been the classism. “Zac Goldsmith is a prime example of spoilt brat syndrome,” says Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail. While Polly Toynbee in The Guardian declares: “As for the despicable Zac Goldsmith, what a satisfactory comeuppance for this entitled, insignificant, Brexit trustafarian.”
Leave to one side the hypocrisy of these pampered journalists accusing others of being “out of touch”. How should this personal attack on someone on the strength of their background be regarded as acceptable?
Far from being too arrogant or too grand to be a dedicated constituency MP, he was utterly committed to championing all those that he represented. Goldsmith was assiduous in taking up casework and hugely active in taking part in community events.
What is the evidence that being rich made him a bad MP? He certainly didn’t need his MP’s salary, but any implication that he was lazy as a result is quite absurd.
Of course there has been criticism that the by-election was “unnecessary”. It wasn’t for Goldsmith. For him it was very straightforward. He had promised at the last General Election that he would resign and force a by-election if the Government went ahead with a third runway at Heathrow Airport.
There was nothing selfish or attention-seeking about this – indeed, by nature Zac is a bit shy. It was simply that he had thought the threat was the best thing he could do to discourage the third runway and having made the promise he had to go through with it.
It was always going to be a tough battle. The Lib Dems chucked the kitchen sink at the campaign with their usual dishonest tactics. They even put out a fake newspaper, the “Richmond and Kingston Gazette” – with articles by the “Senior Gazette Reporter”.
They also managed to grab Labour votes – made easier by the Party choosing the hopeless Christian Woolmar, who lost his deposit and fought an unpleasant and abusive campaign.
Meanwhile the extreme left wing Green Party stood down and urged people to vote Lib Dem. Although he is an environmental champion, Goldsmith did not – oddly – meet the Greens’ ideological requirements.
Still worse was the abuse heaped on Goldsmith when he stood for election of Mayor of London. Constantly he was accused of being anti- Muslim. This was a complete lie. What Goldsmith did was to challenge his Labour rival Sadiq Khan over his extremist links. These were specific and well referenced.
• In a letter to The Guardian in the wake of 7/7 Khan said British Government policy was to blame for the terrorism.
• Khan’s choice to deal with Zacarias Moussaoui – one of the self-confessed 9/11 terrorists.
• Also Khan’s choice to take on the British Government to overturn a ban against the hate preacher Louis Farrakhan.
• Then there was Khan’s decision to share a platform with Dr Azzam Tamimi who called for Jews to be drowned in the ocean and who threatened ‘fire throughout the world’. Khan then to dismissed that preacher’s words as “flowery language”.
There are lots more examples. Khan was able to get away with dodging all the specifics and to suggest – outrageously – that for anyone to have concerns about such matters must be Islamophobic. Labour supporters angrily denounced the charges as “smears” – but the charges were true. Goldsmith had a duty to warn us of the catastrophic judgment of the man who is now Mayor of London.
But it is not true that Goldsmith fought a purely negative campaign. He had plenty of positive themes. For instance, that new housing should be beautiful. Rather than tower blocks, he proposed terraced streets and mansion squares – which can often achieve higher densities.
Certainly Zac Goldsmith made mistakes. He is an enthusiast for direct democracy – perhaps an over-enthusiast. He even balloted (at his own financial expense) his constituents before standing for Mayor, seeking their permission. There is a film called The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer starring Peter Cook where after being asked to vote too often people are left pleading for dictatorship.
Yet for those who want better people to come forward into public service, the abuse heaped on Goldsmith does not exactly help.
He is a principled, honest, tenacious man. In realising his wealth is a political negative he has been good humoured about it: “I’m the son of a grocer,” he once said.
Yet he has found it hard to get a fair hearing. All he has sought to do is to serve the community that he grew up in. I hope he perseveres with politics in some form – but I can hardly blame him if he packs it in.
Prejudice against race, religion, gender or sexual orientation is not tolerated. Isn’t it time to also call off the class war?