The last time we saw a truly awful election was back in 1983, when there was a by election in Bermondsey. The seat had been a safe Labour seat. The Labour Party selected Peter Tatchell, an openly gay LBGT activist. The Lib Dems selected Simon Hughes, who was in the closet (and didn't tell anyone then, or until 2006). Tatchell was demonised by the Liberal Party, the right of the Labour party and the press. It seems amazing to us now, but homophobia was used to destroy Tatchells campaign. Badges and graffitti with homophobic messages were all around Bermondsey. At the time I was a Labour supporter and I was appalled at what happened. Hughes eventually apologised and Tatchell forgave him, saying he should be gudged on his 23 years as an MP. I thought we'd seen the end of such horrible campaigns. I was wrong.
For the London Mayoral elections in 2016 the Tories selected Zac Goldsmith. Son of billionaire James Goldsmith, Zac was viewed as a charming and radical candidate with great Green credentials. Many within the Tory Party felt that Goldsmith would be an ideal replacement for Boris. Not mainstream Tory. Capable of courting the Green vote and crossing party lines and boundaries. What could possibly go wrong? The Labour Party selected Sadiq Khan, son of a bus driver. The two candidates could not be more different. For years the Tories have worked hard to rid themselves of the nasty party tag. Zac seemed just the man to slip nicely into the routine.
Then the campaign started in earnest. All of a sudden Zac decided that Sadiq's religion was a problem. He decided that because Sadiq had appeared at events where there were some people with some pretty appalling views, Sadiq must be a dangerous fundamentalist. Of course anyone who knew anything about Sadiq Khan knew this was nonsense, but Zac thought that such a nasty and dishonest line of attack would play well with voters. For me and millions of other Londoners, peoples religion is a non issue. But for Zac it was a huge problem. And that became Zac's problem. When it became clear that the strategy wasn't working ac simply shouted the message louder and with more ferocity. Khan simply got on with running his campaign.
It became pretty clear to me in the middle of April that Zac was losing the election and the plot. I often bump into local Tories in Mill Hill and their body language was typical of people in complete denial. The arguments were weak and animated. It was clear to me that he'd alienated whole swathes of the electorate. As his campaign limped into its final week, Tory after Tory decided to dump on Goldsmith. High profile Asian Tories started to speak out. Baroness Warsi was perhaps the leading critic of her own parties campaign. In short, the campaign was a car crash.
As the polls closed and the result became clear, even Goldsmiths sister started posting tweets criticising Zacs campaign. The implication was that it wasn't Zac but his campaign managers and spin doctors. This has resulted in further derision and ridicule. If Zac was simply a puppet, then that is even more embarrasing. Not only was he putting out a horrible message, but he was either too weak, too thick or too ambitious to stand up to the people who were meant to be working for him. In short, however you look at it, Zac lacks the judgement and courage to hold down a serious role in politics.
It also emerged that Zac Goldsmith didn't shake Sadiq Khans hand after the result was announced. Add bad loser to the list of sins. Khan has only been Mayor for a few days and already we are seeing just how dishonest the Tory campaign really was. Sadiq Khan was inaugurated in Southwark Cathedral and his first major engagement was the Holocaust day memorial, where he appeared with the chief rabbi. The next big challenge was for Khan was when Donald Trump announced that he'd wave his "no Muslims" rule for the London Mayor, Sadiq struck straight back and hit Trump where it hurt. He correctly pointed out that this was patronising and insulting and Trumps lack of sense risked alienating Muslims across the planet. He also correctly stated that the best way to persuade people away from terrorism is to make them realise that they are not being discriminated against. Whilst London electors get this, it seemed that Goldsmith and Trump didn't.
In years to come, the Goldsmith campaign will be seen as a low point and Zac Goldsmith will be rightly derided as a very bad candidate who ran a horrible campaign. My advice to Goldsmith would be to get a new job and hope that we all forget. I suspect that he will not be welcomed anywhere except the very worst ends of the Tory party, where the racists and xenophobes have not yet departed to UKIP. Is that really what Zac wants.