THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Carl Thomson Headshot

Conservatives Shouldn't Abandon the Green Agenda

Posted: Updated:
Print

Ask many Conservative MPs what they think about onshore wind and the answer will usually begin with them saying that they understand the financial and economic benefits, but conclude that they just don't like the sight of wind turbines and don't want them in their constituency. It's because of the local residents, you see. They simply don't want to live next to a big, noisy, bird blending wind farm.

Well, apparently someone forgot to ask their constituents. New polling conducted by ComRes has found that 62% of Britons would be happy to have an onshore wind development in their local area. Even in rural areas, more than half the people polled said they would have no objections to living near a wind farm.

Despite this popular support, 78% of Conservative MPs say they wouldn't want a wind farm to be built in their constituencies. This is in contrast to the 74% of Labour MPs and 64% of Liberal Democrat MPs who say they are in favour of onshore wind, which seems to align much more with the public attitude identified in the ComRes research.

Granted, the ComRes research does not say how those polled intend to vote in the next General Election. It is possible that Conservative MPs who are expressing opposition to onshore wind are representing a vocal but small group of voters within their constituencies. But the results show it is wholly inaccurate to say that opposition to the principle of subsidised wind power is based on public opinion - and that's true even when looking just at rural residents.

Opposition to renewable energy in general, and onshore wind in particular, has become an important element of right-wing opposition to David Cameron's leadership of the Conservative Party. However, this stance is not only bad politics, but bad policy. Geopolitical upheaval in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, along with rising fossil fuel prices, means renewables are playing an increasingly important role in meeting the UK's energy needs.

Onshore wind has been a success story. The amount of electricity generated from wind power in the UK rose by 70% between the second quarter of 2012 and the second quarter of 2013. The National Grid reported that over a 24 hour period in August, wind power - both onshore and offshore - was responsible for 22% of the UK's electricity, keeping the lights on in more than 15million homes.

At the same time, the uncertainty generated by the very vocal opposition to wind turbines from a number of MPs and by demands to end subsidies for wind power, is discouraging investors from stumping up the £110billion that is needed to modernise the UK's energy infrastructure over the coming years. Several developers have already said that they are holding off on new renewable energy projects until the direction of policy becomes clearer after 2015.

Short-term pandering to perceived NIMBY attitudes and the obstructive attitude towards onshore wind is placing the energy security of our country at serious risk, as well as undermining a supply chain that supports tens of thousands of jobs and is helping to develop the high-value and technical skills that will be essential if we are to compete in the global economy.

With Ukip threatening their right flank, there is the temptation to revert to the 'core vote' strategy of 2001 and 2005 that saw the Conservatives appeal solely to the instincts of their natural supporters, instead of reaching out and embracing a much wider policy agenda beyond more traditional subjects such as immigration and our relationship with the European Union.

But we should not forget that it was the first phase of Tory modernisation which saw David Cameron identify himself with environmental issues and the green agenda that allowed the party to shake off its reputation as intolerant and old-fashioned.

In the face of the Ukip threat, Tory modernisation needs to be deepened, not retrenched. Support for the environment and renewable energy is popular and good politics, as well as being in our national interest.

Suggested For You