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Poll: UK swing voters fear Conservative Party is too weak on green policy

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Poll: UK swing voters fear Conservative Party is too weak on green policy


The majority of UK swing voters want the government to do more to grow the green economy and the country’s renewable energy capacity, according to fresh polling figures which have heightened calls this week for political party leaders to avoid any knee-jerk backsliding on green policy pledges.

Poll findings published today, which took in the views of over 2,000 UK adults, further demonstrate the relative popularity of going further and faster on net zero among voters, even despite concerns in recent days that the government could be set to water down some of its key green pledges.

Among policies rumoured for the chop across various media reports in recent days include the 2030 phase out date for sales of new petrol and diesel cars, the mooted 2035 phase out date for sales of new gas boilers, and a delay to stricter energy efficiency standards for rented properties.

However, poll findings published today show two-thirds of voters – 67 per cent – who supported the Conservative Party at the last election in 2019, but who currently now intend to switch to Labour, believe the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak isn’t doing enough to increase the use of renewable energy in the UK.

Moreover, 57 per cent of voters also said the government was not investing enough in the green economy nor taking sufficient action on climate change, according to the findings of the survey, which was carried out by pollster Opinium.

In contrast, meanwhile, only seven per cent of swing voters and six per cent of current Conservative voters said the PM had gone too far in increasing renewable energy use in the UK, while the majority of switching voters – 58 per cent – said they believed growing the clean energy sector would benefit the UK economy overall, compared to just 11 per cent who disagreed, the survey found.

Among all voters, far more survey respondents also said the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt should focus his attention on attracting investment into renewables rather than fossil fuels, with only eight per cent supporting fossil gas and seven per cent backing oil. That compares to 42 per cent support for wind, which rises to 52 per cent among swing voters, according to the survey findings.

It follows last week’s Uxbridge byelection in which Labour achieved a significant swing in its favour, but still fail to take the seat from the Conservatives by just under 500 votes.

Both parties suggested the Tories held onto the seat due to the unpopularity of Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plan to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to tackle traffic congestion, air pollution and CO2 emissions from traffic in Greater London.

And, just days after the byelection, Sunak indicated that he was considering potentially watering down some of his government’s green policy pledges, as he stressed the need to take a “proportionate and pragmatic approach” to net zero.

Nathan Bennett, head of strategic communications at RenewableUK – which commissioned the survey – said the findings ran counter to suggestions made in recent days that green policies were somehow popular, a view that has gained some prominence since last week’s byelection results.

“There is clear support for renewables and the development of the green economy, as well as the policies which would underpin a green industrial strategy, like the development of our ports and incentives from the Chancellor which would help to grow the offshore wind supply chain,” said Bennett. “Support isn’t solely driven by the fact renewable energy is the lowest cost way of generating new electricity. The majority of voters thinking of switching from Conservative to Labour at the next election, if you ask them, think the Prime Minister hasn’t gone far enough in tackling climate change and growing the wider green economy.”

The latest polling figures also demonstrate strong popularity of a number of specific green policies, with 77 per cent of all voters in favour of ramping up investment in renewables to make the UK a net energy exported by 2030, a figure which rises to 84 per cent among Tory voters alone, and to 88 per cent among swing voters.

In addition, 75 per cent of all voters quizzed said they supported investment in ports and 65 per cent backed targeted tax cuts to support development of the offshore wind supply chain.

Overall, 59 per cent of the voters quizzed in the survey said the green economy and renewable energy sector would be well placed to provide good jobs in parts of the UK that have been left behind in terms of economic opportunities, too.

Bennett pointed out that support for ambitious green action compared favourably against other policies that have been touted by the government as top priorities. For example, the survey also found 68 per cent favoured putting an end to illegal immigration through small boat crossings and 73 per cent supported reducing national debt within the next 18 months.

“There’s more support for green measures than there is for some of the Prime Minister’s five key pledges like stopping the boats,” said Bennett. “They have the added appeal that voters see green industrial strategy as far more deliverable that the Prime Minister’s pledges.”

Rumours that the government could be poised to row back on some green policy pledges have been loudly swirling in recent days, with the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove voicing his support for delaying energy efficiency rules for landlords and the 2035 gas boiler ban.

The government, though, has repeatedly insisted it remains fully committed to its net zero agenda, as well as the 2030 phase out date for new petrol and diesel car sales.

Scores of business figures as well as MPs from within the Conservative Party itself have also urged the government to avoid backsliding on green policy, and to instead push faster and further on net zero and environmental action, citing the relative popularity as well as urgency of such issues.

Tory MP Alok Sharma, the COP26 President in 2021, said the latest Opinium polling today should provide a “wake up and smell the coffee” moment for green policy detractors in the Conservative Party, given it shows Labour could gain support from voters if the government rowed back its offering.

“With a majority of key swing voters believing the government hasn’t gone fast enough with building renewables, it would be a mistake now to water down key green policies,” he said. “Instead the Prime Minister should unblock onshore wind in England, accelerate planning decisions for offshore wind and offer tax breaks for green firms to locate supply chains in the UK.” 

Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) – which counts over 100 Tory MPs as members and has long been campaigning for the government to take a far more ambitious approach to climate and environmental policy – echoed the warning against diluting green pledges.

“This polling shows how environmental action like building more renewables can help the Conservatives win back former voters considering voting Labour at the next election,” he said. “The government has a positive story to tell on renewables, with the world’s largest offshore wind farms sitting off Britain’s coast. The Prime Minister must champion and build on this record to win voters’ trust on green issues. With a majority of key swing voters believing the government hasn’t gone fast enough with building renewables, it would be a mistake now to water down key green policies. Instead the Prime Minister should unblock onshore wind in England, accelerate planning decisions for offshore wind and offer tax breaks for green firms to locate supply chains in the UK.”

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