The Tory MP running this week’s by-election campaign in Corby was facing awkward questions tonight after appearing to admit he had given support to the campaign of a potential rival candidate.
Chris Heaton-Harris, who has campaigned vociferously against onshore wind farms, was secretly recorded saying he had encouraged an anti-wind farm candidate, journalist James Delingpole, to enter the race against his own party.
In the film, he tells an undercover Greenpeace campaigner – posing as someone from a fictional anti-wind group – that he“actually essentially suggested to him (Delingpole) he did it”.
The MP said he was motivated by a desire to put pressure on senior figures in his party to drop their support for wind power. “I’m trying to write it into the DNA of the Tory Party,” he said.
The news is likely to infuriate David Cameron, prime minister, who still insists that the coalition is presiding over the “greenest government ever” in the UK despite the increasingly hostile tone of many Tory MPs.
Many in the energy industry believe that coalition in-fighting is putting off billions
of pounds of potential investment in the UK.
The Conservatives are braced to lose the marginal seat of Corby, vacated when Louise Mensch quit Parliament to move to the US, to the Labour candidate.
Mr Heaton-Harris, MP for nearby Daventry, is supposed to be running the campaign for Tory candidate Christine Emmett.
But in one video, recorded a month ago, Mr Heaton-Harris claims he helped support Delingpole’s campaign. “I’ve managed to supply him with a handful of people who will sort him out,” the Tory MP says.
He admitted that he encouraged his own constituency deputy chairman to resign and instead run Mr Delingpole’s“independent” campaign.
Mr Delingpole subsequently said he would not stand in Corby after new energy minister John Hayes made a high-profile intervention two weeks ago claiming that new onshore generation would be curbed.
In a statement tonight Mr Heaton-Harris said that he had never supported Mr Delingpole’s candidacy, arguing that the latter had never been a candidate as he had not submitted a deposit.
“There was no conspiracy or ‘conspiring with an opposition candidate’,” he said. “I would never betray a party I have been a member of for 25 years.”
In the video Mr Heaton-Harris says there is “quite a nice bust-up” between the Lib Dems and Tories over wind energy and says the Delinpole intervention had given him “a bit of leverage”. He is asked whether Mr Hayes was “smiling on that whole adventure”. The MP replies: “Kind of yeah. Nothing in politics, even if it happens by accident, nothing happens by accident.”
Mr Hayes denied any involvement in any plot to push the anti-wind stance further up the political agenda.
“My views on onshore wind energy are longstanding and well known and certainly not contrived as an “elaborate plan” involving Chris Heaton-Harris, James Delingpole or anyone else,” he said.
The energy minister struck a defiant note earlier tonight, telling Channel Four news on Tuesday night it was “end of story” for wind farms once those currently in the planning pipeline were built.
Mr Heaton-Harris earlier this year persuaded 101 Tory MPs to sign a letter to the prime minister saying that subsidies to the industry should be “dramatically cut”.