June’s General Election has thrown an unexpected lifeline to former mayoral hopefuls and ex-MPs Simon Hughes and Zac Goldsmith who are set to contest their old Commons seats.
Hughes, the Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate in 2004, is confirmed to be standing against Labour’s Neil Coyle who ousted him as Bermondsey and Old Southwark’s MP in 2015, ending a 32 year Parliamentary career.
The former MP is known to miss his old job and will make a determined play to recapture the seat but it’s not going to be an easy task.
Coyle’s impressive 13.9 point swing secured him a majority of 4,489 which Hughes will likely find hard to overturn given that his successor’s firm Remain stance and refusal to vote for triggering Article 50 will undermine LibDem efforts to portray Labour MPs as the enablers of Theresa May’s “hard Brexit”.
Local voices say the new Labour MP is as hardworking as his predecessor and has already amassed a large following of satisfied constituents, having helped them with a mix of housing, education and immigration related casework.
With their anti-Brexit card weakened by Coyle’s own stance on the issue, the LibDems may find the contest is decided purely on local factors and that voters are still happy with the choice they made two years ago.
And while Hughes is clearly planning to give Labour a serious challenge for the seat, he may find it’s too far removed from the party’s other key targets to pull in the activists and campaigners he’ll need for a win.
Many of the party’s supporters will be on the other side of London trying to take back Ed Davey’s Kingston & Surbiton seat, return the defeated Vince Cable to Twickenham and defend the thin majorities ‘enjoyed’ by Carshalton and Wallington’s Tom Brake (1,510) and Sarah Olney who took Richmond Park from Goldsmith with a 1,872 majority last December.
Goldsmith’s keenness to risk a third successive defeat in 13 months has raised a few eyebrows but rumour is he’s had his own private polling carried out and that it contains enough good news to convince him Olney’s small majority is beatable.
In addition, allies of the former mayoral challenger point out that Olney’s slender majority was won when she had a full monopoly on the party’s London resources, a luxury she won’t enjoy in June.
Some even speculate that individual activists may see resurrecting the parliamentary careers of Cable and Davey as more important than holding Richmond and spend their days elsewhere.
With six weeks until polling day it’s far too early to predict the outcome in either seat but both will be key tests of whether the LibDem Fightback is real or as illusionary as the oft-hailed but never seen Green Surge.
PS: A small piece of trivia – both Hughes and Goldsmith have one more thing in common. They both beat LibDem Susan Kramer. Hughes when he stood against her for the party’s 2004 mayoral nomination despite her running a widely acclaimed campaign in 2000 and Goldsmith when he took the Richmond seat from her. She was said to be cross with one of them for quite a long time…