Zac Goldsmith


A principal reason that a European Union referendum took place was the campaigning of the billionaire James Goldsmith through his Referendum Party. In turn his son Zac Goldsmith was a principal reason for the leave victory, although not because of his campaigning for leave, but for the manner of his campaign to succeed Boris Johnson as Mayor Of London. In many senses Zac Goldsmith was the perfect mayoral candidate for David Cameron as it allowed him to continue his policy of consolidating the Old Etonian power base in the Conservative Party. It was also a public declaration that Cameron would be willing to work with eurosceptic Conservatives after the expected remain victory in the referendum. The problem was that Labour selected the Muslim Sadiq Khan as their mayor candidate and Goldsmith chose to use the controversial strategist Lynton Crosby to manage his campaign. Crosby was notorious for negative campaigning and persuaded Goldsmith to target London fears of Islamic influenced terrorism in order to oppose the election of a Muslim. When Cameron joined in the campaign it shattered the Britain Stronger In Europe strategy of painting the remain side as the good guys and the leave camp as the xenophobic racists. This was not the only case where Cameronís over confidence in his referendum strategy persuaded him to risk its success for electoral purposes, but it was probably the most damaging to the remain cause.

Zac Goldsmith was born into wealth and privilege and educated at Eton, but his was not the usual Conservative story. He was expelled from Eton for possessing cannabis and spent several years running The Ecologist magazine. He campaigned for his fatherís Referendum Party in 1997, but gradually moved to towards the Conservative Party. He chaired a review of environmental policies for them and won his local seat of Richmond at the 2010 election, before earning a 23,000 majority in 2015. He won the backing of the Conservative Party to be their candidate to become the Mayor of London and his early campaign seemed uninterested, but by the time the formal campaign got under way his political strategist Lynton Crosby persuaded him to go for the negative approach by questioning the safety of London having a mayor who had associated with extremists. Crosby is famous for his dead cat on the dining table method: saying something awful about your opponent in the hope that the real issues will be ignored. Khan had worked with some extremists because his previous career was as a human rights lawyer. When that did not stick the attack moved on Khan sharing a platform with an imam who was said to be an extremist. It was this charge that on 20 April David Cameron used parliamentary privilege (i.e., immunity from prosecution) to repeat at Prime Ministers Questions. When the defence secretary Michael Fallon repeated the charge in a radio interview the imam threatened to sue and the claim was retracted by Fallon, but Cameron did not apologise until a week after Goldsmith lost the mayoral election. Worse was to follow for Goldsmith when photographic evidence was produced of him sharing a platform with the imam. This attempt to stir up community division did not appeal to London voters who elected Sadiq Khan as the first Muslim mayor of a major European city. The biggest fallout, however, was for Cameron and his campaign for remain.

The attempt to smear an imam in Khanís parliamentary constituency made Cameronís attempt to take the moral high ground against leave appear a not so clever political ruse. Goldsmith had campaigned for the Referendum Party in 1997 and was one of the Conservative rebels who in 2011 sought to pressure Cameron into holding a referendum. Had Cameron stayed out of that angle of Goldsmithís campaign he could after Khanís victory have used Goldsmithís xenophobic campaigning for tactical purposes to further discredit the leave camp. Instead Cameron chose to take the tactical advantage for the mayoral campaign and ended causing immeasurable harm to his tactic of painting leave as xenophobic pariahs. When Cameron shared a remain platform with Khan on 30 May the sense of political opportunism was complete.

Goldsmith the son of the man who forced a European Union onto the mainstream political agenda was a firm support of his late fatherís eurosceptic beliefs, although he concentrated on his mayoral campaign and afterwards stepped back from the fray. Zac Goldsmith damaged his own reputation through his xenophobic campaign strategy, but by drawing Cameron into support it he helped to bring to fruition the dreams of his father, James Goldsmith, while ending the prime ministerís political career.

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