Report: Why hold primary in Richmond Park, not just back LibDems?

Some pro-Europeans think the best way of defeating Brexiter Zac Goldsmith in the upcoming Richmond Park by-election is simply to vote Liberal Democrat. Here are five reasons a primary to choose a common pro-European candidate – as advocated by InFacts and over a dozen civil society organisations – is better.

1. There will be other pro-European candidates in the by-election – the Labour, the Green, an independent Tory, maybe others. All could take part in the primary, but only one would fight Goldsmith. That way, the pro-European vote wouldn’t be split – just as the pro-Brexit vote isn’t being split now that UKIP has decided to endorse Goldsmith and the Tories won’t be putting up an official candidate.

If the anti-hard Brexit vote had united in last month’s Witney by-election, we’d not have a Tory in that seat now. How will we all feel the morning of the result if Goldsmith beats the LibDems by less than the votes cast for Labour and Greens?

2. The successful pro-European candidate wouldn’t just have a party badge. She would be standing under the pro-European banner. This would be an exciting, new brand in the political marketplace. She would therefore probably receive more votes than the LibDems plus the Greens and Labour could get on their own.

3. Some people say it’s obvious that the LibDems are best placed to defeat Goldsmith and that the other parties should just stand down. Be that as it may, it’s not easy to get parties to make way for their rivals even if the national interest is at stake. One advantage of a primary is that all the parties could participate. They wouldn’t just have to withdraw. This makes it psychologically easier to make way and back a common candidate once the voters in the primary have had their say.

4. It’s really hard for members of rival parties to back the LibDems. Their own parties may discipline them if they break ranks. But after a primary that all pro-European parties bought into, members and activists from all parties would be free to swing in behind the winner.

A loyal party supporter will usually want to vote for their side, to express support, not to show disloyalty. This is a good characteristic amongst supporters. A primary allows tribalism to express itself without endangering the wider common good. It amounts to having a restricted two-round voting system, as so many sensible places do – including Scotland, for its by-elections to Holyrood.

5. There’s more at stake than the Richmond Park by-election. If we are to defeat a destructive, hard Brexit, pro-Europeans will need to club together in future electoral contests. Holding a primary in Richmond Park would prove the concept.

Despite these arguments, the LibDems and Labour aren’t interested in backing a primary in Richmond Park – though the Greens probably would if the others played ball. But this doesn’t mean we should stop advocating one. Pro-Europeans have got to stop being satisfied with coming second. We need to start winning. Richmond Park is the place to start.

Sign our petition calling for a primary in Richmond Park

Pro-Europeans are gathering on Richmond Bridge on Saturday, November 5 from 12 noon. Join usthere.

Hugo Dixon is co-founder of CommonGround as well as editor-in-chief of InFacts. You can sign up as a supporter here.