What’s wrong with supporting James Delingpole? Ask the Guardian: it has had a tremendous amount of fun exposing the Tories’ campaign manager for the Corby by-election, Chris Heaton Harris MP, appearing to support The Spectator’s very own James Delingpole. The paper has obtained video recorded by what it describes as an ‘undercover Greenpeace reporter’ of Heaton-Harris telling an audience at the Tory conference that he encouraged James Delingpole to stand as the anti-wind farm candidate in Corby. He says that he has made ‘a handful of people’ available to Delingpole, including the deputy chairman of his constituency. Finally, he adds, more in jest than complete seriousness it seems to me: ‘Please don’t tell anyone ever’.
There is no doubt that this is embarrassing for the Tories, coming as it does on the eve of an election which they are expected to lose heavily. It suggests a lack of discipline that bodes badly for 2015.
However, there is one slight problem with the Guardian’s position: James Delingpole was never a candidate in the by-election because he never paid a deposit. He appears to have flirted for a time with the idea of standing, but announced on 31st October that he would not be doing so when John Hayes MP, the Conservative energy minister, told the Daily Mail that the development of onshore wind farms had to be reined in. It also has to be noted that support for Delingpole in Corby was threadbare.
This story doesn’t primarily concern Delingpole and the by-election; it’s really about a split within the coalition on wind farms and the Tories’ long-term electoral tactics. Heaton-Harris, who’s no friend of wind farms himself, said of John Hayes:
‘He’s a man in a department which absolutely hates him [but] there’s enough support in Cabinet to keep him there and at the moment it’s quite active on the issue.’
The department in question is led by Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat. He and Hayes have clashed over wind farms again this week, with Hayes saying that it is ‘job done’ on onshore wind. Hayes’ supporters in Cabinet include the Chancellor, who is reported (by the well-connected Ben Brogan writing in mid-June of this year) to believe that halting onshore wind farm construction is a vote winner in marginal rural and semi-suburban constituencies like Corby. And James Forsyth revealed soon after the reshuffle that David Cameron apparently told Hayes to ‘deliver a win for our people on windfarms.’
It is, therefore, not wholly surprising to discover that the Tories were courting independent campaigners like Delingpole (who UKIP were also after to mount an attack on the Tories from the right) at a time when they were refashioning their posture on the issue. It is slightly surprising to find them getting caught doing so; but then again, perhaps it isn’t.