Wind energy is much more popular than its opponents would have you think

Even in the Tories, more people support wind farms than oppose them.

Over the last year, a series of opinion polls have shown that a majority of people are in favour of onshore wind. No matter, has come the cry from some politicians – it may only be a minority that oppose wind, but they’ll vote on it, unlike those who support it.

I’ve heard from several MPs who say “I can’t afford to support wind farms”. But for the first time, new independent research by ComRes has shown that local and national candidates who support wind energy actually gain votes.

More than a third of voters in local elections (34 per cent) said they would be more likely to back a candidate who publicly supports building wind farms. Only 24 per cent would be less likely to do so. 36 per cent said it made no difference either way, and 7 per cent didn’t know. So attempts by the likes of Nigel Farage to turn wind energy into a touchstone issue – touting it as symbolic of “everything that’s wrong with this country” – simply don’t chime with more than three-quarters of voters in local elections. He’s out of step with the man in the pub he claims to speak for.

It’s interesting to drill down into the numbers for each of the three main parties. In local elections, more Conservative voters (33 per cent) said they’d be more likely to support a pro-wind farm candidate than those who said they’d be less likely to do so (31 per cent). Just over a third (34 per cent) said it would make no difference. So there’s more support for wind farms among local Tory voters than opposition to them. Perhaps some parts of the media should take notice of this, especially if they want to reflect the views of their readership honestly and accurately.

Support among Labour and Lib Dem voters in local elections is even higher, with 40 per cent and 41 per cent respectively saying a candidate supporting wind would get their vote. That might be expected – but what follows isn’t. Let’s take a look at the UKIP results. Nearly a quarter of UKIP voters (23 per cent) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who advocates building wind farms – and a further 29 per cent said it would make no difference (plus 3 per cent didn’t know). So even within Mr Farage’s own party, less than half his supporters (45 per cent) said they’d be less likely to vote for a pro-wind candidate. Perhaps someone should tell him – gently, using the independent data – the hard facts.

So how would this play out in a General Election? When ComRes asked voters what impact a party being anti-wind would have on their choice at national level, a quarter of Conservative voters said they would actually shy away from supporting them if they opposed wind. Amongst UKIP voters it’s even greater, with 29 per cent of those who voted for them in 2010 saying they would be less likely to back a national party opposing wind. Interestingly, a full 25 per cent of UKIP voters said they would be much less likely to support a party that was anti-wind compared to 18 per cent would be much more likely to back the antis.

Could it be that the mood among voters in Mr Farage’s party is somewhat more nuanced than he’s aware? The numbers would suggest that this is indeed the case.

This poll proves that there aren't actually angry hoards of people frothing at the mouth about wind farms. Local candidates’ policies on the council tax and building affordable housing, and national candidates’ views on immigration, the European Union and reforming the school exam system, all have a much greater impact on voting intentions. The message is clear – despite the anti-wind rhetoric from some politicians, ordinary people care much more about other issues. So it’s important to get the wind energy debate into perspective and keep it factual. It might be helpful if all concerned could recognise that there’s a wide range of opinion, within which the rabid opponents are very much the outliers.

Photograph: Getty Images

Jennifer Webber is the Director of External Affairs at RenewableUK.

Photo: Getty
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Philip Hammond's house gaffe is a reminder of what the Tories lost when David Cameron left

The Chancellor of the Exchequer's blunder confirmed an old fear about the Conservative Party. 

Philip Hammond got into a spot of bother this morning describing the need for a transitional agreement with the European Union by comparing it to moving into a house, saying: "you don't necessarily move all your furniture in on the first day you buy it”.

This immediately surprised a lot of people, because for most people, you do, in fact, move all of your furniture in on the first day you buy a house. Or rent a house, or a flat, or whatever. Most people who buy houses are part of housing chains – that is, they sell their house to raise some of the capital to buy another one, or, if they are first-time buyers, they are moving from the private rented sector into a house or flat of their own.

They don’t, as a rule, have a spare bolthole for “all their furniture” to wait around in. Hammond’s analogy accidentally revealed two things – he is rich, and he owns more than one home. (I say “revealed”. Obviously these are things you can find out by checking the register of members’ interests, but they are, at least, things that are not immediately obvious hearing Hammond speak.)

That spoke to one major and recurring Conservative weakness: that people see them as a party solely for the rich. Focus groups conducted by BritainThinks consistently showed that when people were asked which group of TV families might vote Conservative, the only one that people consistently picked were the “posh couple” from GoggleBox.

David Cameron’s great achievement as Conservative leader was in winning two elections – the first, in 2010, the most successful night for the Conservatives since 1931, with 97 gains overall, the second, their first parliamentary majority for 23 years – despite being a graduate of Eton and Oxford leading a party that most voters fear will only look out for the rich.

He did it by consistently speaking and acting as if he were significantly less well-to-do than he was. Even his supposed 2013 gaffe when asked what the price of bread was – when he revealed that he preferred to use a breadmaker – projected a more down-to-earth image than his background suggested His preferred breadmaker cost a hundred quid and could easily have been found in any upper-middle class home in any part of his country. One of Cameron’s great successes was in presenting himself as an affable upper-middle-class dad to the nation, when he was in fact, well-to-do enough to employ a literal breadmaker had he so chosen.

This is slightly unfair on Philip Hammond who went to a state school in Essex and is by any measure less posh than Cameron. But his gaffe speaks to their big post Cameron problem (and indeed their big pre-Cameron problem) which is that while many conservative ideas are popular, the Conservative Party isn’t. Most of their big politicians are a turn-off, not a turn-on.

And until they can find a genuine replacement for David Cameron, miserable results like 2017 may become the norm, rather than the exception. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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