Here is everything you need to know from the Richmond Park hustings

Richmond Park is on a knife-edge between the Tories and Lib Dems.

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YouGov’s MRP model estimates that the marginal seat is likely to swing to the Liberal Democrats, but it is going to be close, and everything is still to play for.

Incumbent Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith focussed on the constituency’s importance on a national scale:

“There are only two things that will happen in this election. We will either have a Conservative majority or we will have Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10 supported by a coalition of SNP and Liberal Democrats. That will be cataclysmic for our community and our country.”

He added: “Every seat the Conservatives don’t win is a seat for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.”

Liberal Democrat Candidate Sarah Olney presented the party as a feasible choice for those who do not want to vote Conservative or Labour:

She said: “We can achieve a sizeable cohort of Liberal Democrat MPs in parliament – we can have a positive influence on the future direction of this country. We can force the two main parties to make compromises if they want power. We can achieve a second referendum on Brexit and subject Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal to the scrutiny it deserves.”

Labour candidate, Sandra Keen, was unable to attend due to illness, but Mary Russell, Vice Chair of Richmond Park CLP, attended in her place and drew attention to Labour’s investment plans and said despite Mr Goldsmith’s work in the community, “he cannot change the direction of his government”.

Independent candidate Caroline Shah ran on a platform against over-development in the constituency, while John Usher, another Independent candidate, did not attend the debate.

Here’s what we learnt could swing the election in this crucial constituency at the latest hustings hosted by The Richmond Society and The Kew Society:

Brexit

It’s the defining issue of the election, and it’s no different in Richmond Park, where Tory candidate  Zac Goldsmith is now committed to leaving the EU with a deal, while Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney wants to see another vote and remain.

In a constituency that voted 71 per cent to remain, Mr Goldsmith’s position could be costly.

However, he did receive some applause for his commitment to Boris’ deal that “brings as many people as possible together”.

He argued against the two extremes of “leaving without a deal and pretending the referendum never happened”, saying both were “very dangerous for this country”.

Mary Russell, speaking on behalf of Sandra Keen, argued that Labour’s position “makes the most sense” because it allows the public to choose between a “better” deal negotiated by Labour, or not leaving at all.

She also criticised the Lib Dems for their “revoke” policy that would “ignore a referendum.”

Sarah Olney said she thinks “Britain’s best interest lies in remaining in the European Union,” and insisted the Liberal Democrats would only revoke Article 50 “if we were to be in the fortunate position where the British people had gifted us a majority government of Liberal Democrats.”

She added the party would support a second referendum if brought forward by another party in the next government.

Caroline Shah worried that Brexit could worsen environmental policies.

Human Rights

Resident Sophie Constant highlighted the issues faced by the Windrush generation, and asked the candidates how they would help immigrants in Britain.

Ms Russell said the role played by the Home Office was “appalling,” and the Labour Party would “value” immigrants and “get rid of those dreadful detention centres”.

But she was soon forced to answer questions about anti-Semitism in the Labour party after various cries from the audience.

She said: “The Labour Party does have a history of anti-racism and is opposed to anti-Semitism, however, undoubtedly there have been a small quantity of people within the Labour party who have been anti-Semitic.”

Ms Olney said the Liberal Democrats were “the most inclusive party,” adding “we have seen MPs join us from left, right and centre, it is striking the different backgrounds they come from, they come from all different faiths and ethnicities.”

She added the party had stood up for the rights of EU citizens “more than any other party in the aftermath of the referendum.”

Ms Shah spoke about being half-Indian and the racism she had suffered in her childhood and in work institution and “that everyone should be treated to the same rules, with the same respect.”

Mr Goldsmith said the treatment of the Windrush generation was “abhorrent,” but it “was not a scandal owned by one party, or something that the government set out to do.”

Heathrow

It’s the issue that Mr Goldsmith originally resigned over Heathrow in 2016 – and it is of huge concern to Richmond residents who live close to the airport.

Ms Shah spoke about her concerns that expanding the runway would have on ‘opportunity areas’ in South West London, and the developments that would be pushed through.

Ms Olney said the economic benefit of a third runway “does not justify the impact on air quality and climate change,” and reinforced her position against expansion. However, she argued that HS2 “should go ahead”.

Mr Goldsmith reiterated his continued position against Heathrow – but was mocked by the audience for insisting Boris Johnson had been a figurehead in the campaign against expansion.

“There would be spades in the ground if Boris had not been involved in their campaign,” he claimed.

Ms Russell added that Labour’s goal to be zero carbon by 2030 meant we need to develop more green industry instead.

NHS

A question from Deborah Halifax about provision for adequate social care in the aftermath of Brexit prompted some heated debate from the candidates, who also responded to claims that the Conservatives have held discussions where the “NHS is up for sale.”

Speaking first, Mr Goldsmith said this was “total nonsense” and Labour had “whipped up” a storm about it, to angry shouts from the audience.

He added that funding had increased every year since he was an MP “including the six month’s holiday some of you kindly gave me,” when he was ousted by Sarah Olney.

Ms Russell highlighted the gap in the Conservatives’ manifesto on social care and said Labour would prioritise it “so people are not as badly treated as they are at present”.

Ms Olney had a more measured approach, and conceded there will probably have to be another review into adult social care in order to take more action in the next government.

She added that the issue needs to be “depoliticised” to tackle the crisis, adding “this is getting really critical now”.

She said the party would enforce the recommendations in the Dilnot report to cap the amount any individual had to pay for their care at £70,000 over their lifetime, to take away the unfairness faced by those living with dementia for many years.

Ms Shah said she would pledge to value carers, who are “a vital component of social care and completely undervalued.”

Traffic in Richmond Park

Stephen Speak raised a question about the Royal Parks movement strategy to reduce the through traffic going through Richmond Park, and concerns it may force more traffic on to Petersham’s congested roads.

Ms Russell was up first but did not appear to know much about the issue and said it was a “problem with overall planning.”

Ms Olney said she was “agnostic” on the issues and said there was “too much motor traffic generally in the area, if it was banned from going through the park it would be on local roads instead causing congestion and pollution.”

She called for the community to come together to reduce car use overall.

Ms Shah said the park was at a “tipping point” due to increased visitor numbers and vandalism, and these were greater concerns than through traffic.

Mr Goldsmith added that the park was his “favourite place on earth,” and said “we have to find a way to share that space in as civilised a manner as possible.”

He said he did not thinking banning cars in the park was the solution and would simply move traffic. Instead he called for a longer-term goal “to get very serious and very radical about dealing with our air quality.”

What did the audience think?

At the end of the evening it seemed as if most residents had simply had their views confirmed by the debate – with loud cheers at the end of most of the candidates’ speeches.

Brexit remained the key issue on voters’ minds. Resident Suzanne Groom said:

“We voted by 71 per cent to remain in the EU and there doesn’t seem to be any representation from Zac, I mean he’s a hard-line Brexiteer. He has not really responded at all to his constituents.

“I think it’s a terrible situation for the country and I can’t see any solution at the moment.

Another said “judging by the applause in there, I don’t think there are many undecideds. They don’t come to these meetings, they remain at home.”

He worried about getting a Labour government:  “The Labour Party has been torn apart by the Marxists and anti-Semites. It was once a great party representing people who really needed help. It’s been destroyed by Corbyn.”

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