This is the first outbreak of a new wave of very English local revolutions – call it the English Spring come to the May council elections
There was an interesting item published last week in the Daventry Express relating to a local Conservative Councillor called Tony Scott who has resigned from the Conservative party to show the Government the Council's 'complete disdain at its blind determination to blight our countryside with expensive and useless machines'. He has urged fellow councillors across the country and his own colleagues to do the same.
Mr Scott has specifically said that he will now sit as an 'independent' councillor because of the 'unacceptable' government policy of simply appointing Planning Inspectors to rail-road through wind farms across Northants (and the rest of the country) regardless of local opinion, the claims of Localism, or the claims of heritage, however historically or architecturally significant.
This is the first outbreak of a new wave of very English local revolutions – call it the English Spring come to the May council elections – and will only get worse in the wake of last week's HS2 decision to slice through miles of beautiful scenic Chilterns countryside (again in the Tory voting heartland). The reaction of so many Conservative voting residents, Councillors and MPs has been to warn the government that if it continues its anti-countryside, anti-Localism, anti-local democracy, anti-Conservative and pro-big developer political posturing, it will have to deal with mass defections and deeply harmful amputation of some of its most loyal and natural supporters when it comes to voting.
The wind turbine planning plague scandal which has allowed EU driven targets to take the critical issue of positioning of wind turbines outside the planning system, along with the HS2 project that is really to do with Keynesian stimulus, and just throwing money at creating jobs and infrastructure – rather than being a rail-link that we can either afford or really need – is going to seriously impact the Conservative vote in areas that the Tories cannot afford to lose seats.
Moreover, UKIP have been swift to position themselves as being against HS2 and against the insensitive rural proliferation of wind turbines – as the only slavish solution to our energy problems – with the result that it is highly likely that (just as in the last election) many rural Tories will vote UKIP not because they expect their candidates to win parliamentary seats but because it is a protest vote against the Tory led government's anti-Localism and obsession with meeting EU targets.
It should be remembered that in the last election – which Cameron probably would have won had he set out a clearer and more robust Conservative policy agenda, especially on Britain's relationship with the EU – it is estimated that the Tories lost 23 seats (including MPs like David Heathcote Amory) because of protest voting with Tory votes being lost to UKIP candidates. Instead of pussyfooting about trying to play factional suck-up politics cynically calculated to win the unfaithful middle ground (trying to be popular by pleasing factions and cliques is a peculiarly Etonian quality) Cameron should have set up a stall (just as Thatcher did to win the 1979 election) that spelled out why a strongly led Conservative government was the best answer to the country's economic woes. Instead we have the likes of Clegg and Huhne holding Cameron to ransom over EU targets, human rights law, EU employment law – all of which are suffocating growth and seriously alienating Tory voters.
It is over 25 years since I last used the following quote by the historian Lord Acton in an Oxbridge history exam paper, namely, 'What a Government cannot do, by all its signalling and law-making, is what a society is radically indisposed to it doing.’ But this is why there are now an increasing number of local revolts across the country, not the least in Wales, where Welsh Assembly politicians and councillors who are pro-wind are in danger of being simply voted out by an electorate that, like Tony Scott, has simply decided that they have had enough.
One of the biggest factors that would currently lose the Tories a deeply worrying amount of votes is its indifference to the countryside and heritage, despite its insistence that these will both be protected by the re-drafted NPPF. Big Government rail-roading through of HS2 has created the absurd situation that those Tory voters who actually live in the Chilterns near the controversial £33 billion-plus high-speed line (or anywhere in the Home Counties) cannot actually benefit from using HS2 themselves as it is only a non-stop service from Birmingham to London.
The blind pursuit of wind farms, regardless of positioning, will not only desecrate the English countryside and destroy parts of our unique heritage but also make the middle classes unable to heat their homes due to 'renewable obligation' levies and extra tariffs. The now notorious 'Kelmarsh decision” of 19 December by inspector Paul Griffiths – ruining the historic setting of the famous Battle of Naseby site as well as Grade 1 Kelmarsh Hall, where socialite Nancy Lancaster had her social salon – has been the final nail in the coffin of any pretence that there id any way of holding back the EU march of the turbines which so undermine the local planning process, so – quite rightly – elected councillors (and we are talking about elected councillors in the Tory heartlands) are now realising that the only way that the government is going to take any notice is by political action, ie getting people to vote for independent candidates at council elections who are opposed to the usurping of the planning system by unelected inspectors like Griffiths.
As it is increasingly clear from the number of appeal decisions now being made by inspectors – with the all important Kimbolton Castle wind farm decision expected today (23 January) – the planning system is not a level playing field and is rigged to prevent Localism working in practise because of the 'Top Trump' override of EU carbon emission targets. Thus the only way for natural Conservative voters to express their anger with the Tory-led Coalition government (held in a stranglehold by Chris Huhne) is by voting against the government at both local elections and – unless the govt changes its policy on making 'wind' the winning renewable solution to our energy problems (which it clearly isn't, not the least as it is inefficient and too expensive) – probably the next election.
The local rural revolts – fuelled by e-petitions on the subjects of wind, renewables, and HS2 that are blindly ignored by the Coalition – will soon spread from local skirmishes to political rebellion and then onto civil war within the Tory party. Cllr Scott is a brave man and I suspect he will be just the first of many who stand up and say 'enough is enough': 'While I continue to support the current administration I want it to be known that I do not support a number of central Government policies.’
Daventry District has become one of the country's leading wind farm plague hotspots. There are currently have well over 100 wind turbine applications surrounding the village of Crick alone (rising by over 50 in six months), including the Grade 2* 15th century brick manor of Winwick which was formerly owned by the author Sir Thomas Malory. The fate of Winwick village will be decided at a public enquiry in April by just a single inspector despite 100% of the village (almost all Tory) voting against the turbine proposals. The inspector is the same man who ruled on 21 December in favour of allowing the Watford Lodge wind farm to go ahead – after being rejected by the council – which he admitted will harm the historic Grade 2* site of Ashby St Ledgers Manor, home of Viscount Wimborne, where the Gunpowder Plot was schemed in 1605.
‘Following the recent undemocratic decision of the planning inspector to overturn the council planning committee’s resolution and approve the application to build two wind farms at Watford and Kelmarsh, in line with Government policy, was a step too far. As a result I have resigned from the Conservative party and will continue to represent my constituents as an independent councillor,' said Scott in his statement.
Chris Millar, leader of the council’s Conservative group, said: 'I’m very sorry that he’s left the party due to national policies, but he will still support our local policies.’
But in a recent letter to the Daily Telegraph complaining at the way Paul Griffiths had simply overruled his Council's decision to refuse planning permission for the wind farm at Kelmarsh and Naseby, Millar went further in supporting his Tory colleague's decision to resign asking: ‘Is the Government’s localism agenda dead in the water already?'
‘If the Planning Inspectorate are going to use the national renewable energy targets as the main reason for agreeing schemes no matter how inappropriate, inefficient and regardless of their impact on the area they are situated within, then is there any point in a local democratic planning process?’ Millar added.
As things stand, the answer is increasingly worrying: ‘Not while wind farms are regarded as being outside the planning system.’ They urgently need to be brought back within the system in the re-drafted NPPF so that the system can become fair and local democracy and the wishes of local people can be respected. After all isn’t that the whole point of localism?
Although Chris Heaton-Harris, Daventry’s Conservative MP who has been an outspoken critic of Govt wind farm policy, did not publicly support the decision of Mr Scott to resign as a Tory, I suspect that privately he admires the courage of a local politician who will stand up and be counted where it matters – in the voting booth.
He is organising a meeting of cross-party MPs on Tuesday who will be gathering together in the Commons to voice their commonly held concerns – across all parties – that an 'anti-democratic' blind obsession with wind farms is not the answer to Britain's energy problems. The movement has been getting support and coverage from a range of newspapers and commentators as this new EU political trump game chews badly with all political persuasions.
As a commentator for Daventry Express reminded its readers, 'Governing parties who ignore the groundswell of opinion amongst their natural support base soon find themselves in opposition rather than in government.’
And with local council elections coming up, and HS2 bulldozers standing on the horizon of the Chilterns, these rural revolts are likely to hurt the Tories sooner than they think.