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Brexit Denial Watch, Part 1 – Sarah Olney, The Liberal Democrats’ Special Secret Weapon

This image originally appeared in the Daily Express on 2 December 2016: http://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/1/590x/sarah-olney-richmond-park-julia-hartley-brewer-739106.jpg

Let’s all take a moment to savour the defeat of former Conservative MP for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith, in the by-election which he foolishly triggered after following through on his word to flounce out of the Conservative Party if the government finally took its boot of the neck of the aviation industry and authorised the expansion of London’s Heathrow airport.

Zac is a wishy-washy watercolour impression of a man, a Conservative In Name Only, Crown Prince of the NIMBYs, a snarling anti-aviation zealot and an utterly useless London mayoral candidate. British politics will miss his early departure like I missed my inflamed appendix after the Royal Free Hospital scooped it out. (How’s that one, Matthew Parris?)

But naturally, the Liberal Democrats’ surprising win in Richmond Park is being spun by a gleeful party as rather more than it is. One can understand the jubilation of a party reduced from being junior coalition partner to a pathetic rump of eight MPs at being able to add another warm body to their number, but they go too far when they claim that 20,000 people in leafy Richmond is such a representative sample of Britain that a by-election result (which often go against the government of the day) can be safely interpreted as the British public “changing their minds” about Brexit.

And this is exactly what the LibDems, in their arrogance, are now claiming. The Spectator reports:

Goldsmith hoped to focus on airport expansion and his decision to fulfil his promise to constituents to stand down if it was given the green light. But the Lib Dems had other ideas and made it about the EU. The Richmond borough voted heavily to remain — at 69/31 — and the Lib Dem campaign — which was also anti-Heathrow — focused on this. They highlighted Goldsmith’s support for Brexit and reached out to Remain voters — with Olney even promising to vote down Article 50 in the Commons, if elected.

In her acceptance speech, Olney said voters had ‘sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government’ while Tim Farron made the bold claim that if this were a general election the ‘Conservatives would lose dozens of seats to the Liberal Democrats – and their majority with it’. Now this is jumping the gun a bit, and as Fraser notes, a lot of the result can be put down to the Lib Dem’s effective ground game where Goldsmith just didn’t seem to have one. But it can’t be denied that the Lib Dem strategy is working. In the Witney by-election, the party increased its votes share from 7pc to 30pc. They have clearly defined themselves as the party of Remain and in constituencies that voted to stay in the EU this message is resonating.

The newly-elected MP herself was even more explicit on Sky News:

Olney told Sky News that ‘it does look now as if we can have a vote in Parliament that might override the referendum – and I will, obviously, be voting to Remain because that is always what I have believed’.

This is hilarious. Furious, tantrum-throwing Remainers have been complaining since the small hours of 24 June that the 52% of people who put their cross in the box voting to leave the European Union were in fact doing anything other than seriously voting for Brexit. It was just a cry of dissatisfaction, we were told. It’s all about immigration, or globalisation, or multiculturalism, and if only politicians say enough platitudinous things to placate public feeling on those issues then there will be no need to go ahead and trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, setting in motion the wheels of our departure.

And yet despite 17 million British voters casting their ballots to leave the European Union when the referendum question was both crystal clear and painstakingly discussed in advance (and the consequences clearly printed on the pro-Remain government propaganda sent to every household during the campaign), now we are supposed to believe that this vote was actually not a mandate or instruction to take Britain out of the European Union, while a single solitary by-election in leafy, pro-EU west London in which voters were explicitly choosing who to represent them in Parliament until the next general election, not casting a single-issue decision about Brexit is enough to cancel the whole thing.

Do these people hear just how arrogant they sound, and just how plain their attempts to game the system to their own advantage appear now that the curtain has been pulled back and the desperation of the moment has forced them to dispense with their usual subterfuge?

Besides, who knows whether the voters of Richmond Park really do want Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney as their new MP? As Brendan O’Neill put it on Facebook:

Anti-Brexit Lib Dem wins by-election in Richmond. But how can we be sure the people of Richmond really knew what they were voting for? Maybe they’re “low information”. Maybe they were made poisonously anti-Brexit by Guardian and Economist propaganda. Maybe they’re so hooked on Newsnight and Radio 4 that they can no longer think for themselves. Perhaps they were brainwashed by the demagogues Tony Blair and Richard Branson. Can we really trust such people to make big, important decisions like who should sit in parliament? We need a second vote. Give them another chance to get it right. The country must be saved from their ignorance.

Since the election, alarming new evidence has come to light – in the form of a car crash interview with Julia Hartley-Brewer on LBC radio, in which Sarah Olney jabbered like a madwoman, couldn’t answer a single question about Brexit and eventually panicked and had to be rescued by her spokesman after less than four minutes on air – which suggests that the people of Richmond Park may have unwittingly elected a complete and utter cretin to be their representative in Parliament for the next three and a half years.

Since the people of Richmond Park thought they were electing a competent  human being with a basic grasp of the issues rather than a flailing dilettante who cracks under the immense psychological pressure of a casual interview on morning radio, clearly they did not have all the facts. Clearly they were misled. Clearly they need another opportunity to consider their response in the light of this new information.

Isn’t that what we keep hearing about that idiotic “£350 million for the NHS” Vote Leave NHS bus?

This post was originally published by the author 2 December 2016:  https://semipartisansam.com/2016/12/02/brexit-denial-watch-part-1-sarah-olney-the-liberal-democrats-special-secret-weapon/

About Sam Hooper

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Sam Hooper is a former management consultant turned political commentator, currently living in London with his Texan wife. Sam can usually be found somewhere online, droning on about politics, free markets, civil liberties, classical liberalism and classical music. Sam is a proud conservatarian, blogs at http://semipartisansam.com and tweets @SamHooper.

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