On the 6th May of this year, the crushing realisation must have dawned upon Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate for the London mayoralty, that, not only would he not be taking the place in City Hall for which many had thought him a shoe-in, but that he could no longer reasonably claim to occupy the parliamentary niche he had once held so comfortably; the affable, liberal, environmentalist Tory – a charming aristocratic Brexiteer whose ideology hued closer to David Cameron’s nominal One Nation conservatism than his own mouth-frothing, eye-popping Leave campaign bedfellows.
The reason Goldsmith’s reputation has taken such a hit is that he is a racist. Forget his mother’s pleas that “Zac is the least racist person I know” – a statement that, coming from someone with a long affiliation with the Conservative Party, could, quite worryingly, be wholly true – whether or not Goldsmith himself bristles with repulsion every time he sees a person with skin browner than his is virtually immaterial (although, if so, would certainly not strengthen his case.) Regardless of whether he is what you might consider to be someone who is personally racist, Goldsmith values the lives of ethnic minorities little enough to vociferously promote ideas that endanger their existences in the name of electoral gain. It doesn’t really matter whether Goldsmith sincerely considers the singularly moderate Labour politician Sadiq Khan an “extremist”, as he repeatedly stated during his campaign; he obviously thinks that enough people who, like Khan, are of a Muslim background are extremists to allow the public’s perceptions of the lot of them – and, thus, their safety – to be used as collateral in his quest for power.
Goldsmith lost to Khan, and by a fairly significant margin: whilst the Labour candidate won 1,148,716 votes in the first round, Goldsmith won 909,755. Even with the combined racist weight of UKIP, the BNP and Britain First (many of whose supporters likely put Goldsmith as their second choice) all tactically voting for him, he would have won 1,048,825 votes; almost 100,000 fewer than Labour. Whether or not you were prepared to support Goldsmith’s campaign became a sort of racism litmus test for Conservatives (which most of them, naturally, failed, with Cameron – true to the “anything goes” spirit of his final months as Prime Minister – piling in on Khan in parliament with transparently Islamophobic calumnies). The Conservative political commentator Peter Oborne (who, with his open admiration for Jeremy Corbyn and regular column in Middle East Eye, is admittedly not your typical Tory), wrote in a MEE piece called ‘How Zac Goldsmith imported Donald Trump’s politics into Britain‘ that “Goldsmith’s campaign for mayor has become the most repulsive I have ever seen as a political reporter,” drawing comparisons to two sorry episodes in British political history:
One was the infamous Bermondsey by-election of 1983 when the Labour candidate Peter Tatchell was targeted on account of his homosexuality. “Which Queen will you vote for?” asked an anonymous leaflet sent round the constituency in the final week of the campaign.
The other was the Smethwick campaign in the 1964 General Election. Peter Griffiths stood as the Conservative candidate against the shadow foreign secretary Patrick Gordon-Walker. Griffiths used the campaign to make a statement about immigration. “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour” was the Tory slogan.
(Oborne ultimately went further than most Conservatives and actually voted for Khan: the first time he had done so for a Labour candidate.)
“But,” you plead, “I’m a gullible enough prick to believe that somebody with as mild a social democratic programme as Jeremy Corbyn could legitimately be described as an extremist. There’s nothing racist about calling Khan such a thing on account of his close links to the leader of his party.” However, the line that Khan and Corbyn would be running London hand-in-hand, jointly pushing a radical socialist agenda, was a blatant Tory fabrication: Khan, a New Labour veteran and close Ed Miliband ally, made every attempt to distance himself from Corbyn during his campaign in search of moderate Tory votes. When he won, this was revealed to not simply be a matter of triangulation, but of ideological opposition: he instantly turned his fire on the party’s leader in the first interview he gave as mayor, used others to express very few ideas beyond “large businesses are A Very Good Thing”, and eventually endorsed bitter, blokey Viagra salesman Owen Smith in Labour’s futile and destructive 2016 leadership contest. Khan is from the right-wing of the Labour Party – the soft left if you’re being particularly charitable – so if you think his politics are extremist in any way it’s a fair bet that his religion is a factor in that assessment (he’s a moderate Muslim too, of course, but racists find it hard to identify the distinction between one and the most hardline Wahabist.)
But it was not only his personal smears of Khan – many of which rested upon the idea that as a human rights lawyer he had frequently met “unsavoury” characters, which is literally what human rights lawyers do – that gave Goldsmith’s campaign a toxic air of racism. He indulged in aggressively racially targeted strategies that led the New Statesman’s Anoosh Chakelian to write that:
“Call it crass, call it divisive – the question now seems not to be whether Goldsmith’s campaign is being perceived as racist, but whether these messages will work.”
Clearly the tactics – involving promotional materials pitched specifically to particular ethnic and religious groups, which made stereotypical assumptions about their intended recipients – did not. According to Daily Sikh Updates, “Goldsmith assumed all the 120,000 Sikhs (in London) were middle-class Hindus, running family businesses, concerned about burglaries and possessions whilst welcoming to (Indian Prime Minister, Narendra) Modi’s UK visit last year.” Everybody with the surname Singh was assumed to be a Sikh with a family business and a stash of gold, everyone called Patel a Gujarati Hindu. Goldsmith’s dog-whistle attacks on his opponent were grossly offensive, but so was his clueless, patronising treatment of his own potential voters.
In an attempt to claw back a smidgen of eco-cred, Goldsmith resigned both his Richmond Park parliamentary seat and his membership of the Conservative Party in October over the government’s decision to approve the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport – a decision on his part that is correct in as much as a third runway would be bad for both the local residents and the environment at large, but smacks palpably of the privilege of an extraordinarily rich man whose political career is going nowhere fast; who can afford to take a stand because he has fuck all else on. Goldsmith has advertised tomorrow’s by-election as a referendum on a third runway, although his Labour and Liberal Democrat opponents happen to share his particular policy on that front. Not only have the pro-third runway Conservatives – whom he has not ruled out rejoining – elected not to run a candidate against him, depriving Mr “Unprecedented Wealth in Modern Politics” of, I’m sure, much-needed funds but permitting their members to campaign for him, UKIP have decided not to challenge him for the seat, making voting for him once again a no-brainer for anyone who resents people of different ethnic backgrounds to them.
Nothing about the Richmond Park by-election looks promising for the left. The last polling I saw placed Labour’s candidate Christian Wolmar – someone who thought that Jeremy Corbyn was a good idea in 2015 but defected to Team Smith the following summer, baffled that a year of constantly-undermined socialist leadership hadn’t fully realised utopia – at a derisory 6%. At Richmond Park’s final hustings, Wolmar pointed out that the Lib Dem candidate, Sarah Olney – who, according to the party’s (always slightly suspect) internal polling, stands a genuine chance of beating Goldsmith – had deleted a blog post where she “praised Theresa May for her ‘coolness, steeliness, common sense, hard work [and] competence’ but only had criticism for both Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn.” Olney appears to have internalised the Lib Dems’ coalition-era embrace of draconian austerity measures, complaining that Labour have “no economic credibility” and are “not fit for government.” Somebody who is not prepared to argue for a more humane economic policy does not deserve to represent the progressive left and, despite their tiny chance of winning the seat, Labour were right to stand a candidate against this reactionary centrist in lieu of any so-called “progressive alliance.” If she beats Goldsmith, cheer not for her victory, but for Goldsmith’s continued personal humiliation.
Then there is the matter of the cats. A Manchester Evening News story from 19th October asked “is someone deliberately poisoning cats in this village?” – echoing a similar spate of feline murders that plagued Croydon in the year leading up to the London mayoral election, gradually expanding to encompass the entire M25 region as over 100 poor fluffy friends tragically lost their lives. In what was mistakenly reported by the Independent as a “joke”, a theory developed on social media that Goldsmith – the quintessential Patrick Batemanesque handsome, affluent, cold-eyed man of wealth, taste and bloodlust – was responsible for the killings. For a while, “zac goldsmith croydon cat killer” was the third highest search result for his name on Twitter, although it was quickly replaced by the equally factually accurate “zac goldsmith racist.” At this time of heightened paranoia – particularly for ethnic minorities and cat owners – the question on many people’s lips was, “where did this thing about Zac Goldsmith being the Croydon Cat Killer start?” The answer is simple. It started when Zac Goldsmith repeatedly murdered cats in and around the Croydon area.
Be it for his appalling racism, his political ineptitude or his savage slaying of beautiful kittens, Zac Goldsmith has no place in politics. Still a Tory in all but name, and supported by UKIP in their true capacity as a fascistic Tory pressure group, his poisonous politics deserve to be stamped out with all the force of a studded boot on a neo-Nazi’s skull. Were I a Richmond Park constituent I’d be voting for Christian Wolmar but, fuck, vote for the awful Lib Dem if it means turfing this foppish tosser out of parliament for good and back to his incredibly comfortable existence of filthy, filthy lucre. Then – with the wearisome political debate concluded – we can focus our attentions on stopping the Croydon Cat Killer before he strikes again.