Lib Dems may be set to relax trademark anti-nuclear stance

Opposition to building a new generation of nuclear power stations has been one of the Liberal Democrats’ most distinctive policy positions

Deputy Political Editor

Liberal Democrats could ditch their long-standing antipathy to nuclear energy next month in a conference debate that will cause deep divisions within the party.

Opposition to building a new generation of nuclear power stations has been one of the Liberal Democrats’ most distinctive policy positions although they have watered it down in the Coalition Government.

At their conference in Glasgow, delegates will be asked whether they want to adopt a new policy of accepting that nuclear energy has its place in electricity generation.

The move is understood to have the backing of Nick Clegg, the party leader, and Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, although they are unlikely to speak directly on the issue.

The vote at the party’s Glasgow conference will be seen by some Clegg allies as a test of its ability to face up to the tough decisions facing a governing party.

The Liberal Democrats pledged opposition in their last election manifesto to new nuclear power stations because of concerns over their expense and safety and the Coalition agreement allowed them to abstain in votes on the issue.

However, Chris Huhne, the former Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change Secretary, announced moves to build eight new power stations – as long as the state did not have to subside them. Mr Davey, who replaced him, has adopted the same position.

In next month’s vote, delegates will be asked to choose between opposing the construction of new nuclear plants or accepting they could play a “limited role” in electricity supply providing worries about safety, cost and the disposal of radioactive waste could be addressed. The conference has the final say in setting party policy.

Passions aroused within Liberal Democrat ranks by the subject were highlighted when 22 MPs – well over one-third of the parliamentary party – signed a Commons motion warning that the Fukushima disaster in Japan underlined “the extreme dangers inherent in nuclear power”.

A Lib Dem spokesman told The Independent: “Nuclear power has always been a hotly-debated issue within the party.

“Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, our policy-making is democratic and it is right the arguments for and against new nuclear are thrashed out on the conference floor.”

The conference will also be asked to endorse a strategy to “set the UK on the path to a carbon-neutral future”, including plans to reduce council tax for families who make their homes more energy-efficient and to support ambitious EU carbon emissions targets.

Senior Liberal Democrats believe its stance will be a key point of difference with their Conservative coalition partners at the next general election. Mr Clegg last week accused the Tories of abandoning their pre-election pro-Green language after 2010.

The party, which publishes its conference agenda on Monday, will attempt to use next month’s gathering as the effective launch of its 2015 election campaign. But it comes as the Liberal Democrats continue to languish in the polls, often finding themselves relegated to fourth place behind the UK Independence Party.

As revealed by the Independent last month, party chiefs are braced for a backlash from members to a proposal to stick to the Coalition’s controversial decision to raise university tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year. They are opposing calls by some activists for fees to be cut to a maximum £6,000 a year or replaced by a graduate tax.

Another flash-point will come over calls for the party to commit itself to bringing back the 50p rate of income tax on earnings over £150,000 a year. Mr Clegg wants to retain the current 45p rate.

The Glasgow conference will be asked to choose between keeping 45p or returning to 50p if an independent review found this would raise more revenue than it would cost.

Other tensions are expected over the issue of whether to support the like-for-like replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own