George Osborne's decision to put the economy before "green energy" is opposed by the public, including the voters the Conservatives need to woo in order to win an overall majority in 2015.
A YouGov survey found a majority of people, including possible Tory voters, believe the Government can save both the planet and the economy by investing in green technology. Voters also reject the Chancellor's strategy that the UK should not go further than other countries in creating a low carbon economy.
In his autumn statement today Mr Osborne will confirm that the Government will approve up to 30 new gas-fired power stations in a "dash for gas" that green campaigners fear will undermine investment in renewable energy such as wind farms.
According to YouGov, the Chancellor's judgement may harm Conservative prospects at the next election. Only 29 per cent of the public, and 32 per cent of people who might vote Tory in 2015, believe that "protecting the environment is fine in the good times, but we can't afford it while the economy is struggling". Some 54 per cent of the public, and 53 per cent of possible Tory voters, agree that "we can save the planet and the economy both at the same time by investing in green technologies".
More than half the public (57 per cent) and possible Tory voters (53 per cent) believe the UK should commit to most of its electricity coming from renewable sources by 2030 – a move blocked by the Chancellor – with only 10 per cent in both groups opposing the idea.
Mr Osborne has declared that he will not impose burdens on business so Britain can go further and faster in cutting carbon emissions than its European counterparts. But that is not the preferred approach of the public. Some 47 per cent of people, and 46 per cent of possible Tory voters, believe Britain should lead the world in creating a low carbon economy. Some 39 per cent of people, and 35 per cent of possible Tory voters, think Britain should do no more than other countries.
Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Labour-affiliated Fabian Society which commissioned the poll jointly with the WWF pressure group, said: "The Coalition began its administration with a pledge to be 'the greenest government ever', but in recent months this has dropped off the radar. Labour has, to date, been quiet about how it would tackle environmental issues in government."
Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, said:" The next election will be a fight for swing voters who want Britain to lead the world in creating a low carbon economy. Any party that wants to form the next government should remember this."