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Sophy Ridge: Wind Farm Brouhaha Highlights Coalition Rift

Sophy Ridge, Sky News

Chris Heaton-Harris won’t face action for his Corby plot but the affair is further proof of a bitter division on wind energy.

Who realised by-elections could be so interesting? Much fun is being had with the Tory MP who apparently encouraged a rival to stand against the Conservative hopeful he was supposed to be campaigning for.

Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris was caught by an undercover Greenpeace sting, bragging about his “plan” to encourage the anti-wind farm independent James Delingpole to run in order to get the issue back on the agenda.

His “strategy” was that Mr Delingpole would pull out before the actual by-election – which he has done.

The machinations could be part of an episode of The Thick of It but little is likely to come of the story, apart from plenty of embarrassment.

When I asked a source close to the Prime Minister whether Mr Heaton-Harris would face consequences, he merely said: “We’re 100% focused on campaigning for a Tory win in the by-election.”

So, that’s a no then.

But the story is far wider-reaching than the Corby by-election, and its focus is already shifting to wind farms.


David Cameron in 2007
David Cameron’s focus on green issues is a distant memory  

Mr Heaton-Harris is part of a significant faction of Conservative MPs who hate wind farms and believe that ploughing money into renewables at a time of economic difficulty is – to put it simply – a waste of money.

Chancellor George Osborne is said to have some sympathy with the view that money could be better spent elsewhere but this group comes up against a wall of opposition from the Lib Dems.

There appears to be a civil war breaking out in the Department for Energy (sic), run by the pro wind farm Lib Dem Ed Davey.

He has repeatedly clashed with his Conservative minister John Hayes, who has announced to the press that it is “job done” with onshore wind and no more turbines should be built.

The news did not appear to have filtered through to his boss, though, who slapped him down very publicly.

Mr Heaton Harris touched on the friction during the sting, saying that Mr Hayes is “a man in a department which absolutely hates him” – but the minister notably does have support from the Cabinet.

And make no mistake, there will be plenty on the Conservative backbenchers who will be secretly cheering Mr Heaton-Harris for trying to push the anti-wind farm cause up the political agenda.

What is the harm, they think, in encouraging an anti-wind opponent to run as long as he pulls out in time and does not steal votes off the Conservatives?

The only shame is that he got caught.

One senior backbencher told me: “He’s a silly bugger but it’s no big deal. Chris is popular and respected for his consistent line on wind farms.

“Most feel he has a tough job at Corby and think he has done well there. This is unfortunate, nothing more.”

Nevertheless, the sting does of course also serve to remind people that David Cameron prioritising environmental issues – complete with the green tree Conservative party logo – is a distant memory.

Sky News, 14 November 2012