The man running the Conservatives’ bid to cling on to outgoing MP Louise Mensch’s Corby seat is facing further embarrassment on the day that voters go to the polls as video emerged of him citing research on the harmful nature of wind farms he had earlier admitted he had never read.
Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris, who is organising his party’s Corby by-election campaign, was covertly recorded by a Greenpeace activist, saying he had “not seen any half-decent research about” the dangers posed by wind turbines to birds.
However, in another clip of an on-the-record interview the organisation said was recorded just two weeks later, he said: “Certainly they [wind turbines] have a very bad interaction with bats and a number of species of birds, and you just have to go up to the Yorkshire Coast to see that in evidence itself.
“And I’ve always been surprised actually that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has been very timid on this issue, because there really is the evidence out there and there are now international studies pointing at this.”
Mr Heaton-Harris is a staunch opponent of wind farms and his comments appear to be an attempt to cast the argument against their construction as one built on concern for the welfare of local bird species.
The issue is the latest in a string to cause embarrassment to Mr Heaton-Harris personally and to deliver a blow to his efforts to get another Tory MP elected to replace Ms Mensch as voters go to the polls today following her resignation in August.
Secretly recorded video emerged on Tuesday evening of the Conservative MP claiming to have encouraged a rival candidate to stand and even supporting his campaign, despite Mr Heaton-Harris’ own party loyalties.
In the video, he told undercover reporter Chris Atkins that the independent anti-wind farm candidate, James Delingpole, was standing as part of a plan to “cause some hassle” and put the issue on the political agenda.
Mr Heaton-Harris later released a statement in which he admitted to “bragging about things beyond my control”. He added: “The implication that I choreographed any sort of ‘secret plan’ is simply not the case and I apologise if that is the impression given.
“It can hardly be said that my wanting to ‘put this on the agenda’ is new. I have spent years fighting on-shore wind, getting over 100 MPs to sign a letter to the Prime Minister, securing debates and raising questions in Parliament and touring the country speaking to anti-wind groups.”
In the video released earlier today, he is heard to tell undercover reporters: “I’ve been really hassling the RSPB because they’ve been crap. In fact, there’s some land up in Yorkshire which they own that they proposed wind turbines on, they have their own proposal.”
He adds that the number of supporters the RSPB has leaves them vulnerable over the wind farm issue, saying: “[that] is why actually the bird blending phrase really hurts them. Because, I mean, how true or not I’ve got no idea because I’ve not seen any half-decent research about this”.
But he later contradicted that statement when speaking on the record. Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said: it was astonishing Chris Heaton-Harris was still in his post after this week’s revelations. And he called on Prime Minister David Cameron to “step in and sort out the Government’s energy shambles”.
He said: “Our investigation has exposed a Government in acrimonious conflict over energy policy at the very moment it's about to undertake the most important reform in decades. The Prime Minister should show clearly and quickly whose side he's on - those backing green growth and green jobs or the deceitful, anti-environment faction that we now know exists on both his front and backbenches.”
There is no indication as to whether Mr Heaton-Harris read the research he referred to in the period between the two interviews. When contacted by The Independent, Mr Heaton-Harris would only reply: "My feelings on wind farms are well-known."