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 Images
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How can the left make the case for immigration?

All too often, we drift into telling people we want to convince that they just don't get it.

We don’t give the public enough credit. You’ll often hear their views dismissed with sighs in intellectual circles. In fact on most issues the public are broadly sensible, most are these days supportive of cutting the deficit and dubious about political giveaways, but in favor of protecting spending on the NHS and education. Yet there is one issue where most, “knowledgeable” folks will tell you the public are well out of step: immigration. 

With [today’s] net migration figures showing yet another record high, it is an ever more salient issue. On a lot of measures ‘too much immigration’ ranks highest as the number one concern (see Ipossmori). The ongoing rise of right wing political parties across Europe demonstrates that simply enough. But concerns about immigration don’t just sit with those with more extreme views, they’re also shared across the mainstream of public opinion. Yet unlike thinking on cutting the deficit or funding the NHS the public consensus that immigration is bad for Britain, flies flat in the face of the intellectual consensus, and by that I mean the economics. 

Given the intense public debate many a study has tried to spell out the economic impact of immigration, most find that it is positive. Immigration boosts the nation’s GDP. As the theory goes this is because immigrants bring with them entrepreneurialism and new ideas to the economy. This means firstly that they help start new ventures that in turn create more wealth and jobs for natives. They also help the supply chains to keep ticking. A example being British agriculture, where seasonal workers are are needed, for example, to pick the strawberries which help keeps the farms, the truckers and the sellers in business. 

Most studies also find little evidence of British jobs being lost (or displaced) due to immigrants, certainly when the economy is growing. Indeed economists refer to such “ “they’re” taking our jobs” arguments as the “lump of labour fallacy’. On top of all that the average migrant is younger than the native population and less likely to rely on welfare, so their net contribution to the state coffers are more likely to be positive than natives as they don’t draw as much state spending from pensions or the NHS. 

So why haven't the public cottoned on? Many progressive types dismiss such views as racist or xenophobic. But it turns out this is to misunderstand the public just as much as the public ‘misunderstand’ immigration. When you study people’s views on immigration more closely it becomes clear why. Far from being racist most people asked by focus groups cite practical concerns with immigration. Indeed if you go by the British Social Attitudes Survey a much smaller number of people express racist view than say they are concerned about migration.  

The think tank British Future broadly set out that while a quarter of people are opposed to immigration in principle and another quarter are positive about it the majority are concerned for practical reasons - concerns about whether the NHS can cope, whether there are enough social houses, whether our border controls are up to scratch and whether we know how many people are coming here in the first place (we don’t since exit checks were scrapped, they only came back a few months ago). But more than anything else they also have very little confidence that government can or wants to do anything about it. 

This truth, which is to often ignored, begets two things. Firstly, we go about making the argument in the wrong way. Telling someone “you don’t understand immigration is good for our economy etc etc” is going to get a reaction which says “this person just doesn't get my concerns”. Despite the moans of progressives, this is precisely why you won't hear left leaning politicians with any nous ‘preaching’ the the unconditional benefits of immigration.

More importantly, the economic arguments miss the central issue that those concerned with immigration have, that the benefits and effects of it are not shared fairly. Firstly migrants don’t settle homogeneously across the country, some areas have heavy influxes other have very little. So while the net effect of immigration may be positive on the national tax take that doesn't mean that public services in certain areas don’t loose out. Now there isn't clear evidence of this being the case, but that could just as well be because we don’t record the usage of public services by citizenship status. 

The effects are also not equal on the income scale, because while those of us with higher incomes scale tend to benefit from cheep labour in construction, care or agriculture (where many lower skilled migrants go) the lower paid British minority who work in those sectors do see small downward pressure on their wages. 

It’s these senses of unfairness of how migration has been managed (or not) that leads to the sense of concern and resentment. And any arguments about the benefit to the UK economy fail to answer the question of what about my local economy or my bit of the labour market. 

Its worth saying that most of these concerns are over-egged and misused by opponents of immigration. Its only a small factor in stagnating wages, and few local areas are really overrun. But the narrative is all important, if you want to win this argument you have to understand the concerns of the people you are trying to convince. That means the right way to make the argument about immigration is to start by acknowledging your opponents concerns - we do need better border controls and to manage demands on public services. Then persuade them that if we did pull up the drawbridge there is much we’d loose in smart entrepreneurs and in cultural diversity. 

Just whatever you do, don’t call them racist, they’re probably not.

Steve O'Neill was deputy head of policy for the Liberal Democrats until the election.