The Richmond Park result will go down in history as one of the most dramatic for the Liberal Democrats. To overturn a 23,000 Tory majority and replace it with a majority of nearly 2,000 was truly remarkable. The by-election was called because of Zac Goldsmith's pledge to his constituents that he would resign if the government decided to approve a third runway at Heathrow. But the main issue on the doorstep was not Heathrow. It was Brexit.
People were disgusted with the UK government's hard line on Brexit
The Leave camp are already dismissing the result as being irrelevant, saying that almost 70 per cent of people in Richmond voted Remain in the referendum and so it is no surprise that they voted for a Remain candidate yesterday. I talked to many people in the constituency over the campaign period as I live there and it was evident to me that they were disgusted with the hard line that the UK government has taken on Brexit so far. They felt that the referendum was not decisive, with only a marginal win for Leave, and that their views were being ignored. That is why they voted for Sarah Olney and the Liberal Democrats yesterday.
I talked to people who felt misled by Boris Johnson's rhetoric.
It would be a mistake to believe that all of the people that voted for Sarah in Richmond Park voted Remain in the referendum. I spoke to several people who voted Leave, believing the rhetoric of Boris Johnson, who promised that we could curb immigration and stay in the single market and that the NHS would get an extra £350m per week if we left the EU. They felt misled and very concerned about the prospect of leaving the single market and now see no prospect of the NHS getting an extra £350m per week, which is why they turned to the Liberal Democrats yesterday.
Every time someone dares to express concern about the approach the government is taking to leaving the EU, they are decried as a 'Remoaner' and told that they must accept that Brexit means Brexit. I predict that I will get many comments relating to this post saying just that. But, Theresa May needs to take note of what happened yesterday. She needs to remember that we are in a Brexit honeymoon period. Before too long, prices of petrol, food, cleaning materials and clothing will start to rise. The cost of imported cars will rise too. Inflation will pick up strongly, but wages will not keep pace. There will be a squeeze on real earnings and the very same people who voted Leave in order to highlight their plight as a result of globalisation will be most badly affected as the economy deteriorates.
Those who think hard Brexit will cause serious damage must make their voices heard
Theresa May should also remember that David Cameron took a gamble on Europe for two main reasons. The first was to stamp on the Eurosceptics within the Conservative party. The other was to stop the rise of UKIP. He miscalculated when he called the referendum and now our country faces a very uncertain future. If the economy takes a hit and Theresa May is unable to get an attractive deal for the UK (access to the single market and a curb on free movement of people), there is likely to be a backlash against the Conservatives.
Thursday was just the beginning for those who are concerned about the future of our country post the referendum. The Liberal Democrats have won a string of council by-elections over the last few weeks, with another gain in Chichester yesterday. Those who really care about our country's future and fear that hard Brexit could cause serious damage are turning to the Liberal Democrats and they WILL make their voices heard.