In my piece in the current Prospect, I raised the question of whether Zac Goldsmith would rise or fall as an MP. It’s been an intriguing week for those watching his fortunes. As heavily hinted in a previous profile in the Times in January, it was revealed his marriage was ending. And now, first in the Telegraph and today in the Mail on Sunday, you have new claims.
The least interesting is that he says he will speak out if David Cameron U-turns on green Tory promises, most likely those which preclude new nuclear and coal power stations. More interesting, and not in a good way, is his intervention on post-expenses politics:
“Politics mustn’t become a place where you have to be wealthy to be independent,” Mr Goldsmith told the Mail on Sunday Live magazine. “The flip side, for me at least, is that I was born into a position of privilege and am therefore not corruptible.” He also claimed that he would be a more effective politician than the less well off, who waste time trying to make the most of the expenses system.
“Mr Goldsmith said he does not need to claim the second home allowance…But he said he would take an MP’s salary, currently £64,766, and suggested it should be even higher. ‘I do think MPs should be given a decent salary. Even the ones I dislike enormously still work very hard.’ He added that he would donate much of what he earns to good causes, however.”
It might be that Goldsmith was misquoted, or quoted out of context. But, if not, his remarks do him few favours. The idea of a wealthy MP doling out his or her own salary to favoured causes (rather than not claiming it) seems heavy with the possibility of backfiring. Which charities? On what basis? Then, even without pointing out that wealthy MPs (admittedly none quite so rich as Goldsmith) seemed just a likely to work the system during the expenses debacle, the tone of this interview seems less than well judged.
Note what he doesn’t say: he is going to be a normal MP, realises he has a lot to learn, realises that because of his background people might have presumptions about him which he needs to disprove, will work hard for his party, try to nudge David Cameron in the right direction and so on; all the things you’d expect a canny wannabe first-term politician to say. Instead he draws attention to his wealth, makes some questionable arguments about corruption, and hints that if it doesn’t all work out he can just quit. He said something similar in his interview with the Times in January, and was then surprised when his Lib Dem opponent plastered the quote over an election leaflet. (See example two, here.) Michael Ignattief, another famous figure turned politician, made a habit when first running for parliament in Canada of saying that he was “not so naive as he appeared.” Interviews like this don’t do the same for Zac Goldsmith.