Nick Clegg today faces a split in his party over fracking, as green campaigners claimed the Lib Dems risked undermining their commitment to the environment if they backed the controversial drilling for shale gas.
In a surprise finding, a Liberal Democrat Voice poll reveals that a majority of Lib Dem members are in favour of fracking, with 46 per cent for and only 36 per cent against. A motion to promote “green growth and green jobs”, to be debated in Glasgow today, asks the party to back fracking. Yet some senior figures, including Tim Farron, the party’s president, are believed to have major reservations about a full-scale rush to allow drilling across the UK.
The poll also reveals that the Lib Dems’ opposition to nuclear power has softened, with 65 per cent of members in favour of it being in the energy mix and 29 per cent against.
The Lib Dems attempted to boost their green credentials yesterday by backing a 5p tax on plastic bags, to be introduced in England in 2015 – bringing the country into line with Northern Ireland and Wales. Money from the tax would go towards environmental charities, but Ed Davey, the Climate Change Secretary, said the move was more about changing behaviour.
Charges in Northern Ireland have led to an 80 per cent reduction in use. Mr Davey described the proposed tax as “a huge environmental step forward”.
Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace welcomed the announcement, but said support for nuclear power and fracking would take financial and political capital away from renewable energy sources. A line in the motion to enact “as soon as possible a legally binding target for decarbonising the power sector by 2030” was undermined because party chiefs were blocking Lib Dem peers from backing a decarbonisation target in the Energy Bill currently before Parliament, they claimed.
But a Lib Dem source insisted there were two sides to today’s motion – support for renewable energy as well as for fracking and nuclear. “This is about keeping the lights on – the only way of doing that is through an energy mix.”
Greenpeace UK’s chief scientific adviser, Doug Parr, said: “For a long time, the party’s green pledges made it different from the other main parties, but it now needs to fight to keep that distinction alive.”