Lib Dems pick candidate to fight Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park by-election
The Liberal Democrats have announced Sarah Olney as their candidate to vie for a spectacular electoral victory against Zac Goldsmith in the Richmond Park by-election.
Relative unknown Ms Olney currently represents the party in the south-west London seat, and is seen as the main threat to the former Tory MP in the contest to be held on December 1.
Her selection comes in spite of speculation that the Lib Dems would parachute in a high-profile party figure to shore up their prospects of seizing a constituency they think is winnable.
Leader Tim Farron previously admitted the party had a "mountain to climb" to overturn Mr Goldsmith's 23,000 majority from last year's election, but intends to battle him on a pro-EU ticket.
Speaking outside Grey Court School in Richmond, where the Lib Dems unveiled her as their selected candidate, Ms Olney said she was confident she could overcome Mr Goldsmith's majority.
She told the Press Association: "I think on paper it obviously looks a bit daunting, but I think one of the things is that Mr Goldsmith isn't standing as a Conservative this time, so it remains to be seen how much of that support he carries with him as an independent.
"Secondly, we've just come from the most fantastic swing in Witney of about 19% and, with a similar size swing, we'd actually defeat Mr Goldsmith - we've got lots of reasons to be optimistic about our chances in this election."
Despite being cast from Government into the parliamentary wilderness after a hammering in the General Election last year, the Lib Dems were heartened by a strong performance in David Cameron's former constituency this month, finishing second.
The former London mayoral candidate forced the contest by ditching the Conservatives to stand as an independent in protest over the decision to give the go-ahead to a new runway at Heathrow Airport.
He was branded a "rich boy playing fast and loose with the electorate" by a Tory MP furious the Conservatives were not contesting the Richmond Park by-election.
Alec Shelbrooke, the Tory MP for Elmet and Rothwell, told Sky News his party was making a mistake by not selecting a candidate to battle for the seat.
He said: "I have said quite openly that I think it's a big mistake the Conservative Party is not putting forward a candidate."
He added: "The first time I think since 1963 we don't have a candidate and if Zac Goldsmith thinks that this campaign is just going to be about Heathrow, well, the Lib Dem candidate only has to pop up and say, 'yes, I also won't vote for Heathrow' and they can do that from the Commons and then it can be about a whole host of other issues.
"I'm afraid this really is a rich boy playing fast and loose with the electorate and actually a by-election costs the electorate hundreds of thousands of pounds."
Mr Goldsmith's decision to trigger the contest was also questioned by Ms Olney, who told Sky News she was "not entirely sure" what he was "trying to achieve".
She said: "It is going to cost the taxpayer a great deal so it does seem to be a bit of a waste of time although we are obviously pleased to have the opportunity to put our positive messages to the voters."