Zac Goldsmith: "If any of those promises are broken I will trigger a by-election and allow people to penalise my party."
Zac Goldsmith appears to have inherited more than his father's fortune: there is an emerging genetic predisposition towards standing on points of principle. Perhaps Mr Goldsmith is indeed his father's political progeny.
He is battling to take the seat of Richmond Park for the Conservatives (from the Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer), and in a hustings meeting organised by the local Chamber of Commerce, which wss hosted the BBC's James Naughtie, Mr Goldsmith has promised to trigger a by-election if he is elected as part of a Conservative Government that subsequently breaks key election promises.
Let's face it. When you're worth £30 million, you don't need to be an MP. And when you're also an Old Etonian, there is nothing in David Cameron which is particuilarly intimidating.
But the word 'key' is important here. For Mr Goldsmith's 'key' may not be key to everyone else, and, as we all know, political keys have a habit of being lost, or even forced into locks for which they were never designed in an attempt to unlock all manner of untold, undeclared and unforeseen policies upon the poor, unsuspecting electorate.
But Mr Goldsmith has been helpful.
Not only has he said that he would not vote along party lines in the House of Commons if he felt any issue would have a negative impact on residents (indeed, he would tell parliamentary whips to 'stuff it'); he has specified some of these 'key' promises:
1) No Heathrow expansion under a Conservative Government
2) No charges for parking in Richmond Park
3) Kingston Hospital will be safe.
Now, Cranmer's Readers and Communicants might be persuaded on the 'key' merits of No.1, and even of No.3. But No.2 appears a bizarre point of principle.
In what sense can the introduction of parking charges constitute a breach which might justify a Member of Parliament triggering a by-election in order to 'allow people to penalise my party'.
Not least because decisions upon such matters are usually taken by local councils, and the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames is presently Liberal Democrat conrolled.
So if the Liberal Democrats conspire to impose parking charges in Richmond Park, their MP will trigger a by-election, thereby imperiling David Cameron's already- slender and precarious Commons majority.
That aside (for it has been pointed out that Royal Parks may be administered by Parliament), it is a delight to see such independence of mind among the Conservative ranks, and the prioritising of local concerns. There is a hint of a return to independent MPs being in Parliament primarily to represent their constituents rather than constituting 'lobby fodder' and a 'top-down' representation of the party to a supine, compliant electorate.
Perhaps the wheel has come full circle: the next Parliament might be more in the mould of that of the 18th century, when politics was exercised by independent MPs who grouped informally according to type or temperament. Political parties existed but they were better understood not by watching them in the House of Commons but in the country. There they were manifest – principally between the Tory landed gentry and support for the Established Church, and the Whig merchants and Non-Conformists. In Parliament, leaders and groups often changed so quickly that understanding what they were about was difficult.
It was only during the course of the 19th century that these social networks evolved into what may be considered political parties. Since then, they have become so disciplined and ‘whipped’ that a division in the House of Commons is now mostly a well-drilled affair.
The House of Commons needs more MPs like Zac Goldsmith.
Perhaps, like his father - the late, great, much-missed Sir James Goldsmith - he might even one day make the issue of European Union a 'key' issue upon which he might trigger a by-election.
One lives in hope.