Friday 2nd December saw two remarkable and rather unexpected election victories in very different places.
In the affluent leafy suburbs of Richmond Park in south west London Sarah Olney for the Lib Dems overturned Zac Goldsmith’s majority of 23,015 to win with by 1,872 votes. That is one of the biggest by-election swings in history. It was the first election that More United played a part in. The progressive alliance, that they helped build, beat the regressive alliance that had formed between UKIP and the Conservatives who both backed Zac Goldsmith. Labour was one of half a dozen parties to lose their deposits, and rightly so: they should have joined the alliance supporting Sarah Olney. It was a good night for the Lib Dems. What will be even more intriguing is whether it’ll be the start of much greater strategic collaboration by left of centre parties and whether More United really are to become a major force in UK politics.
Meanwhile in hot and poor West Africa, Yahya Jammeh the old authoritarian leader of Gambia has just conceded defeat to Adama Barrow in a shock election result. This looks good for democracy. It looks like Gambia has just had its first peaceful democratic transfer of power since it achieved independence in 1965. Seven opposition parties that previously had failed to unite around a single figure managed to cooperate and do so this time: that is why they won. Adama Barrow wants Gambia to rejoin the Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court. These are good signs.
Gambia is a desperately poor country and many of its people have come to Europe over the last few years, risking their lives in long desert crossings and in rickety boats crossing the perilous Mediterranean. The Gambia is currently dependent on imported oil for most of its energy needs and consequently has some of the most expensive electricity in the West African region. Most households still don’t have access to electricity. Collecting firewood is time consuming, and tree cover has diminished exacerbating desertification. There is much preventable disease due to poor access to water and sanitation.
Gambia has a great solar resource. With the right degree of political cooperation this could be developed to tremendous advantage. I could see a solar based industrial revolution occurring in the Gambia, and indeed in many African countries, to such an extent that they might become quite prosperous and actually attract inward migration. It would of course require a huge degree of cooperation, but that is the take home message from these two elections in Richmond Park and in The Gambia. Cooperation is vital.