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.

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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.