In conversation with Zac Goldsmith

What are your key goals and priorities in your role as MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston this year?

You work on a lot of different levels when you’re an MP, so you know every week in fact many times every week, I’ll meet individual constituents who have problems and they can range from being small to astronomically very large and you never know who is going to come through the door and and you never know if you’re going to be able to help but that is a very rewarding part of the job because you can actually remove barriers that are ruining people’s lives, you can actually cut through the bureaucracy as an MP in a way that you can’t in any other position. And that makes a massive and an immediate difference for a lot of people so thats one level of work. Then you have threats that come up in the constituency some times, planning threats or in the case of Richmond the biggest threat is the expansion of Heathrow and you have to really just drop everything and fight that campaign with everything you possibly have but then you’ve got the more long-term needs of the community so in both Richmond and Kingston, (I represent both parts), we have a serious problem of school place shortages, particularly in Richmond schools and that is something that I don’t have any direct authority, I can’t open schools up left, right and centre, but I can apply a lot of pressure on the local authority and central government for funds and that’s a big priority for me at the moment. We have the best primary schools really of anywhere, just not enough of them. People are beginning to panic a bit and that’s a big focus for me and many other issues as well, protecting our high streets, our small shops, protecting the quality of life that people enjoy by ensuring that we don’t overdevelop areas that mean a lot to the community, our green spaces for instance, these are the kinds of things that we focus on locally.

On Heathrow expansion;

I thought before the last election that we’d just won that campaign and we’d put it to bed and it was gone and that we’d be able to focus on positive things. So I’m really disappointed that the issue has come back onto the agenda and that we’re having to pick up and fight again. It’s a bit like a political boomerang, it just keeps on coming back. But I feel that this is now the defining battle. You either win or lose now. And that really will be a full stop for the issue. My view is that locally obviously expanded Heathrow would have a massive massive impact on constituents even in Kingston, people who aren’t currently affected would be affected and you just have to bear in mind that Heathrow affects more people with its noise than all of Europe’s major airports combined, that’s a government figure not mine. So it has a massively disproportionate impact so doubling it will obviously increase that problem further so on quality of life grounds in terms of people and communities, it would be an absolute disaster, but I think economically its the wrong thing to do as well, I’ve never understood arguments in favour of creating effectively a tax-payer subsidized foreign owned monopoly on one edge of our giant city. It doesn’t make sense and in every other sector, people nowadays call for competition in order to improve the customer experience to keep companies on their toes and I don’t understand why in airports that wouldn’t also be the case, and it is the case and you can see that very clearly in what’s happened Gatwick, its become a good airport since it was liberated from the monopolies, doing things that we were told it couldn’t do. It’s opening up new long haul routes and it’s becoming a good airport because of competition. So for me the answer is having a competitive network of airports, principally Stansted, Gatwick, Heathrow, allow them to compete, invest in the surface transport the train links cross rail to Stansted road links where necessary improve access to those airports and let them compete, don’t create a monopoly that just seems to me to be an absolutely the wrong thing to do

On high speed rail;

Emotionally I’m very much in favour of it, I always have been, I think that its inconceivable that we would regret this extra capacity between the north and the south, you know it’s the equivalent I believe of a ten lane motorway it will have a massive impact in terms of capacity, the speed issue is important, the capacity issue is more important. I think we are one of the most centralized countries in Europe, so everything happens in and around London so to improve our transport links between the great cities is a good thing to do for society and the economy. My concern with the project is that number one; the cost we’ve really got to be careful that the costs don’t spiral out of control there have been some alarming figures banded around. Im also surprised that the government hasn’t listened more to local campaigners in relation to the route, my understanding is that it would have been possible to follow much more easily existing contours, motorways and so on and that would have required less compulsive repurchasing so it would have required less tunneling, it would have upset fewer people and it would have only added a couple of minutes onto the journey so I’m surprised by elements of how this process has been managed but the principle I think is right.

Why did you oppose intervention in Syria?

It’s an incredibly complicated situation and really difficult thing for any parliamentarian to even consider. My concern is that where a country is going to intervene in another country, so not out of direct self-interest, its about improving the situation in another part of the world to justify that you really need to know that you’re going to improve the situation and I don’t think the evidence was very compelling, I mean from the reports we were getting, suggested that by disempowering the regime that we all know is very malignantly “Assad” regime, you can’t do that if you don’t at the same time empower the opponents otherwise there’s no point doing it and we don’t know who those opponents are. There are very very diverse organisations, very diverse groups of interest some of whom don’t seem to be any better than the regime we’re up against. So I think you’ve got to be very careful, I did not support the movement against the Prime Minister’s motion in parliament because I felt that the motion was not a declaration call, it made it very clear that there would be a vote if ever that were going to change, if ever we were going to go into Syria that was a part of the motion which means voting for the Prime Minister’s motion was not voting for war. But I felt that voting against it would be a little bit too black and white. Ruling against intervention forever in Syria was bordering on irresponsible so right now I would not support intervention in Syria. I cannot imagine supporting intervention in Syria but I don’t think its responsible to rule out the possibility forever because the situation could change, you might end up having a very decent, very impressive opposition, organised opposition that really does need support and we could potentially justify providing that support in a way that at the moment we can’t. It’s possible I think, it’s probably unlikely but it’s possible and you shouldn’t rule things out in politics if you can avoid it.

 Do you feel that the gains being made by the green party are positive?

They are one and the same for me so i’m going to give you one answer and that is that its a very positive thing that there are more people willing to vote green, I think that Caroline Lucas who is the only green MP, has been an enormously positive influence on politics. I don’t agree with her on everything in fact there are a number of issues I don’t agree with her on but I think she’s been overwhelmingly a positive force in parliament and parliament is a richer place for having her here so I personally take a lot of comfort in the fact that the Greens seem to be in the ascendancy and long may that continue. The goal however in my view should not be to have a majority of green MPs, (capital G green MPs), the goal ultimately should be that each of the mainstream parties develops a proper comprehensive, coherent answer to the ecological crisis we face, a party that doesn’t have a proper set of green policies is a party that really doesn’t deserve to be elected.

 How do you feel that the Conservatives are doing in this regard?

I don’t feel that we’re doing as badly as people might suggest, some of the commentators might suggest. In terms of energy we’re doing OK, I’m not a fan of nuclear power I think we’ll come to regret the deal that we’ve done, I think its irresponsible to pin all our hopes on shale gas which some members of my party have done. Its very unlikely to have a significant impact on price and I think that its essential that we don’t run into it without really ensuring that we can do it safely and without contaminating local water supplies and so on but equally I recognise that we are going to be dependent on gas in the short and medium term whatever we do and that doesn’t matter which economic or energy model you look at they’re all going to end up in the same place ….its not a black and white issue I think in terms of renewables we’ve had a record uptake in the last year, massively exceeds previous records, particularly impressive is what we’ve done with solar in my view but not just solar. So I think we’re moving in the right direction but there’s lots more we need to do we need to industrialize energy efficiency; we haven’t succeeded in doing that and we said we would and we need to boost the green deal which is for home efficiency and there are things we can do to boost it which we’re not doing at the moment. I hope we do but I don’t think its a disaster in terms of energy. I think in terms of the real environment that most people think of when you talk of environment there are areas where I think we have fallen very short. I think its absolutely insane for the party to propose selling off the national forest estate and I oppose that and I would have liked us to be more bullish in terms of laying out a coherent network of marine protected areas, we’re making progress but I would have liked it to have been a bit faster, I think we can do more with our overseas territories where theoretically we could create the world’s greatest nature reserves at virtually no cost. I’d like to have a much stronger bias in terms of brownfield development against greenfield development, in favour of local democracy against top-down planning there are lots of things that I would like to see us do that we haven’t done or do better things that we have done. Its not a disaster but you cant describe the Tory party at this point as a green party, its moving in that direction but I would say that all three of the mainstream parties fall very far short of what is needed if we are to adequately address the problems that we face today and that is one of the reasons that I want to be an MP in the Conservative party, to change that.

UKIP and the Conservative Party;

I’m not sure that you can separate the two because a lot of people will support UKIP and believe that it is a credible alternative to the establishment and I certainly wouldn’t undermine what those people believe but at the same there is an element of protest about it and I know that from correspondence I have with my own constituents, that people are sick to death of the way we do politics in this country and regard voting for UKIP as a way to slap the establishment, as a way to wake it up so there is a protest element there and I don’t think there’s any denying that but you have to take protest seriously. Why are people protesting against the political system? Why are people protesting against the mainstream parties? What is it that we are doing wrong? I think the problem is that the way we do politics has become too remote, the distance between people and power has got so great now that the former don’t feel that they have any influence at all over the latter and rather than simply throwing mud at some of these new upcoming parties, I think we need to address the reason why people are being drawn towards them

Do you think that by focusing the election campaign on themes such as immigration , the Conservatives risk appealing to a very small portion of the electorate?

I’m not convinced its going to be a really strong part of the election debate to be honest, I may be wrong but I don’t feel thats where we are going. We made a promise to reduce net immigration in this country and thats more or less been delivered. But the reality is that most people interested in politics already know, the only immigration that we can influence is immigration from outside of the EU and theres nothing to suggest that that kind of immigration is any worse or better than that coming from within EU and I think that people wonder how you can have any genuinely coherent sense of immigration policy at the same time as not being able to control immigration from within Europe. So I personally would favour a situation where we have control over our own borders and we can decide these policies for ourselves and that we can talk about carrying capacity, we can talk about numbers we can talk about what kind of immigration plans we need for this country. At the moment these discussions are largely academic because of our relationship with the European Union so I think its a big of a bogus debate, I think a lot of people can see that for themselves but I don’t think that it will become a major part of the discussion, it will be part of it clearly but I don’t think we’re going to see the kinds of debates that we’ve seen in the past in this country I think we’ve moved beyond the racial undertones which characterized much of the immigration debate in the past. I think you can now talk about immigration without being polarized, without it being a comment on race or people, I think, I hope so.

 How effective do you think David Cameron has been as leader of the Conservative party?

He has because its an incredibly tough job we’re in a coalition which means that they’re going to be people in the party who are unhappy with some of the compromises that have been made. He has navigated his way through that skillfully. My critique would be that there are areas of policy which we made a lot of noise about before the election and which the Lib dems also made a lot of noise about before the election but which haven’t been delivered and we quite often hear politicians blaming the fact of coalition for the broken promises that we’ve all made. And I think thats disingenuous, so for example we all promised to bring in recall which is a mechanism allowing local people to hold their MPs to account, Tories promised that, Lib Dems promised that, Labour promised that and yet it hasn’t been delivered. And you hear people saying well if we had a majority we would be able to do that but its not true we’re not doing it because there was no appetite to do it at the top because it was throwaway promise that politicians made in the heat of the expenses scandal and they ought to be held to account for that. Likewise many environmental policies which we haven’t pursued as vigorously as we should, appeared in both manifestos, Conservative party and Lib Dems and so I think the coalition has become a little bit of an excuse, a convenient excuse for both parties who are not wildly keen on delivering all the promises they made rationally before the last election and I think thats a problem because what it does is it means that people will look at us in the next election and they’ll look at our manifesto and they’ll wonder how much of it they can take seriously, how authentic are these manifestos and their promises or are they purely and simply mechanisms for attracting votes.

Interview by Lux Modhwadia

Photo – BBC News

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