“I think unless there is some terrible environmental catastrophe, I’m not likely to win… I mean never say never!” A candidate’s admission of their chances being this slight is rare to come across, but Goldsmith’s remark shows how victory in an electoral contest does not have to come in the form of winning the most number of votes.
“The reason I am standing is to try and get green questions and green issues onto the agenda. Quite often things are discussed by the Green Party and then are dismissed out of hand by the main parties… and then quietly five years later they pop up as manifesto promises and then they become mainstream politics.”
The implementation of the so-called ‘Boris bikes’ scheme in London is one example Goldsmith uses: “They shouldn’t be Boris bikes, they should really be Jenny Jones bikes” after Jenny Jones, the only Green peer in the House of Lords who has been a member of the London Assembly since its creation in 2000.
In Brentford and Isleworth, it’s Goldsmith’s ideas and questions about a proposed Heathrow expansion which are most likely to fly with voters. “People do need to fly – I have flown on business – but to have a new runway is not what I think is the right thing to do. I would spend that money improving local rail links and improving train capacity… In twenty/thirty/forty years far fewer people who will be able to afford to fly because of the price of jet fuel.”
Heathrow Airport is located right next to the constituency and Heathrow expansion is a delicate issue for both the Conservatives and Labour party; both national parties support the premise, yet neither the local candidates for those parties do. Goldsmith remarked, “I think that’s very interesting – the difference between the policies of the parties and the policies of their own representatives.”
For a Green Party candidate, it is perhaps unsurprising that Goldsmith raises his environmental concerns with airport expansion in general: “It has become obvious to me that we are getting to some difficulties with the planet in terms of using up all of the resources, running out of fresh water, damaging the atmosphere, putting too much carbon dioxide into the air.” However, environmental concerns are not the only reasons why he supports the party, saying that its messages are about “social justice, about reducing the gap between the rich and the poor… I have found that aspect as become as important as the environmental work that the party does”.
The ‘Green surge’ which is often ‘hashtagged’ by party members on Twitter to highlight increasing support, particularly in membership levels, which doubled from September 2014 to over 40,000 in January 2015, is a swell Goldsmith has observed in his local branch in Hounslow. “Once, when you would have a couple of people turn up to meetings now you have ten, fifteen, twenty people… I’m hoping the whole thing becomes a snowball and that we can do really well and win a significant number of seats across the country.”
For the time being, the Green Party in the area are focusing on meeting voters on the street. I asked Goldsmith what reaction he receives when approaching voters. “Most people are quite apathetic, because we go on Saturday or Sunday, and they are busy shopping. The people who engage with us, are actually very receptive: particularly Labour voters.”
This might worry Ed Miliband, as votes for the Greens are more likely to come from disaffected Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters than Conservatives. But an anti-Conservative alliance seems unlikely; Goldsmith’s rebuke of Labour was fierce: “The Labour party seem to be increasingly embracing neo-liberal policies,” which in his mind has led to the current three largest parties in Westminster being “indistinguishable.”
For Goldsmith then, he wants his candidacy to stand out from the other parties, commenting “Just to get the questions on the table and get people to think, I think if I can do that I will be pretty satisfied.” Victory this May therefore seems not to need to come in the form of votes.