Zac Goldsmith has signalled his determination to do nothing to jeopardise his campaign to stand as the Conservative candidate in the London mayoral contest by confirming that he will remain in the party even if he is forced to resign his parliamentary seat over the expansion of Heathrow airport.
The frontrunner in the Tory mayoral selection battle pledged to remain a “pain in the backside” for the government, after saying that he will uphold his pledge to resign his Richmond Park seat if the government opts for a third runway at Heathrow. But he will remain in the party to allow him to try to secure the nomination to succeed Boris Johnson in the London mayoral contest next May.
Downing Street is understood to be inching towards accepting the recommendation by the independent airports commission that called for a third runway to be built at Heathrow to meet the increased demand for air travel.
Cameron gave a “no ifs, no buts” pledge in the presence of Goldsmith before the 2010 election that he would not agree to a third runway.
Downing Street is likely to argue that the manifesto for the 2015 general election cited the independent airports commission that was chaired by Sir Howard Davies. It said simply: “We will deliver on our national infrastructure plan and respond to the Airports Commission’s final report.”
Speaking at a Centre for London mayoral hustings, Goldsmith said: “I made a pledge in 2008 to my constituents that if the Conservative party in government gave a green light to expansion I would trigger a byelection.
“I did that shortly after David Cameron came to Richmond and said no ifs, no buts, there will be no Heathrow expansion. People loved what they heard.
“[Triggering a byelection] is a promise I would absolutely be obliged to honour. It is not something I would want to do. But I would be obliged to do it. I would not resign from the Conservative party, I would not resign from the mayoral contest. If there was a question mark I wouldn’t be here today. I am here as a hopeful Conservative candidate for an incredibly important campaign.”
The move by Goldsmith suggests that the Tories could once again have a high profile mayoral candidate who will be prepared to challenge the party’s high command. The decision on Heathrow is due to be taken by the end of the year, raising the prospect of a byelection in Richmond Park which used to be a Conservative and Liberal Democrat marginal seat.
The Lib Dems, which held the seat between 1997-2010, will have high hopes of regaining the seat particularly if the Tories select a pro-Heathrow candidate to replace Goldsmith. But Goldsmith retained the seat in May with a 23,015 majority over the Lib Dems which may prove too difficult for the Lib Dems to overturn so soon after their electoral drubbing.
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