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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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR