Visitors to Richmond Park in south-west London, where Henry VIII used to hunt, are sometimes surprised to see large flocks of noisy green parakeets which have made their home there. Their presence is variously attributed to globalisation (imported from more exotic climes, their forerunners escaped and bred) and climate change (warmer London winters mean they have unexpectedly survived and thrived). Both are causes close to the heart of another exotic resident, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith.
Goldsmith is still only 37, impossibly handsome ("everybody fancies him, both women and men," confided one Tory insider), a hard-working constituency MP, rich — his late father, the tycoon Sir James ("Jimmy") Goldsmith, left him a large fortune — and a dedicated environmentalist. Yet he is something of a contradictory character. He opposes budget airlines but thinks nothing of flying to the Caribbean on holiday; he campaigns to save the countryside from development but supports the wind farms that also despoil it; and he is an increasingly vocal critic of capitalism, from which his fortune derives.
In March he went out of his way to praise Ed Miliband's attack on capitalism, when the Labour leader made a distinction between "producers" and "predators". "I think Ed Miliband was right to raise this and right to use the language he did," he said. "He was flirting with a very important issue."
Goldsmith's flirtations with the Left will do nothing to endear him to his own party leaders, from whom he has become increasingly distant since he was elected in 2010. Then he was seen as the poster-boy for Cameron-style "liberal conservatism". In some respects he resembles Cameron. Both are good-looking, wealthy Tory modernisers. Both were educated at Eton, though Goldsmith, nine years Cameron's junior, was expelled after being caught with a large stash of marijuana. Cameron, ever lucky, got off with a warning for a similar offence.
Goldsmith went to work for his eccentric uncle Teddy, who owned and edited the Ecologist magazine. Zac took it over and modernised it. Cameron drafted him onto the Conservative quality of life policy group, to reshape the party's environmental policies; Goldsmith co-wrote its report. Cameron also placed him on the A-list of prospective candidates. Goldsmith repaid his leader's faith by overturning the Liberal Democrat majority in Richmond Park with a majority of just over 4,000.