Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park, talks to Will Gore about his preparations for next year’s election, and his favourite local places
When I meet Zac Goldsmith at a Sheen café on a sweltering July morning, the first subject up for discussion is the upcoming battle at the ballot box.
‘I’ll be delaying the campaign for as long as possible because it’s the least enjoyable part of my job,’ he says. ‘Campaigning is almost always necessarily negative, so I will try and hold back.’
Putting off the electioneering will allow Zac to focus on the campaigns he’s been running in Parliament. He is fully committed to getting a Bill through that would allow the public to recall their MPs. During his stint in the Commons, he has built a reputation for being his own man and this is one of those issues over which he’s refusing to toe the Tory line.
‘In Parliament I will work with anyone and take on anyone in the name of the campaigns I’m working on,’ he says.
‘That puts me up against my own party sometimes, and sometimes Liberal Democrat ministers and Labour. On recall as far as I can see, I’m against all three leaders. The only argument of recall is a fear of democracy, and MPs that have that fear are probably in the wrong job.
‘If I, having made all of those promises about opposing Heathrow expansion, changed my mind radically and said I was going to back it, then I think people here would have the right to recall me.’
And where does he stand on the proposed expansion of Heathrow right now? He says that although the fight seemed to have been won by the ‘No’ camp, there is still plenty of work to be done. ‘Heathrow are being more straightforward now. I’ve been told by them that if they get a third and a fourth runway then that would be a sign of success. So we should be talking about fighting a doubling of the size of Heathrow, not just an increase, and I hope campaigners get that.’
Back in 2010, Zac’s fight for the Richmond Park seat was a headline-grabbing one when he took on and defeated Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer. He had been on the verge of standing for election in the safe Conservative territory of Hampshire, but decided at the last minute to make his bid for the House of Commons in the place he has called home for the majority of his life (he grew up in Ham and now lives in Barnes).
He says he hasn’t had to learn ‘what the priorities are on the big issues’ because he’s ‘naturally in touch what’s important here’. As well as Heathrow, other local issues we talk about include his disappointment at the loss of funding to the Orange Tree Theatre and Kew Gardens and his thoughts on the new stadium for Brentford FC which will overlook part of the constituency (he agrees with it in principle but dislikes the size and aesthetics of the flat blocks being built on the Lionel Road site).
What about the mooted job-swap with Boris Johnson that a blogger mischievously suggested might be on the cards? All nonsense, he assures me. Representing Richmond Park for a minimum five more years is currently his ‘obsession and ambition’.
Before our chat, I was determined not to allow myself to be dazzled by Zac’s renowned charm. I must admit, it proved quite difficult. He comes across as a nice guy and is, in my humble opinion, an impressive politician. Too early to say whether it’s enough to persuade me to tick the Goldsmith box come May 2015, but I certainly wouldn’t bet against the Richmond Park electorate at large going for him again.
‘I go to Gail’s and Orange Pekoe a lot. I use Gail’s partly because it’s new and partly because I was involved in a campaign to stop an estate agent setting up in the building. The law was no use to us so we had to persuade the estate agent not to go there and amazingly they agreed.’
‘In terms of features of the constituency it’s number one. It’s extraordinary and makes London different to any other city. From certain vantage points you can see St Paul’s and I can never get enough of it.’
‘We are lucky to have the Olympic in Barnes and I’m planning to screen some campaigning films there. We’ve got a screening of Trashed, a film with Jeremy Irons about plastic and waste, coming up soon.’