The Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris has apologised for “bragging about things beyond my control” after claims he encouraged a potential rival candidate to run in the Corby by-election in order to influence Conservative policy on wind farms.
Greenpeace, the environmental group, said it had obtained undercover footage of Chris Heaton-Harris apparently admitting to encouraging James Delingpole to stand as an independent, anti-wind farm candidate in Corby.
The MP said the quotes attributed to him included “bragging about things beyond my control”. He denied masterminding a “secret plan” but said he was sorry “if that was the impression given”.
The group said the footage showed that Mr Heaton-Harris hoped to use a Delingpole candidacy to push the issue of wind farms up the political agenda.
Officials from Mr Heaton-Harris’s local Conservative Party also backed Mr Delingpole as he appeared to consider running in Corby.
Mr Heaton-Harris is an outspoken opponent of onshore wind farms, and earlier this year organised a letter signed by more than 100 Conservative MPs calling on ministers to reduce their backing for turbines.
In a statement today the Tory MP said: “The quotes attributed to me range from factually correct statements to me bragging about things beyond my control, which has so often before been the failing of politicians.
“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.”
“It is a subject I am passionate about and will continue to work on until communities across my constituency, Northamptonshire and the country have the protection they deserve.”
Mr Delingpole, who writes a blog for the Daily Telegraph, suggested last month he would stand in Corby, but never formally registered as a candidate.
He then said that he would not be a candidate because of an intervention from John Hayes, the Conservative energy minister, who suggested that the Coalition will not licence any more wind farms because “enough is enough”.
Greenpeace said that one of its activists held two meetings with Mr Heaton-Harris during October, pretending to be an anti-wind campaigner.
The group said the MP appeared to suggest that he had contrived Mr Delingpole’s potential candidacy in Corby to sway Conservative ministers over energy policy.
In the first meeting, at the Conservative Party conference, Greenpeace said undercover footage shows Mr Heaton-Harris admitting to encouraging Mr Delingpole to stand.
The MPs’ words on the footage are unclear, but he can be heard asking the activist never to reveal the conversation, saying: “Please don’t tell anybody ever.”
Following Mr Delingpole’s suggestion that he could run in Corby, Mr Hayes made the strongest public criticism of wind farms to date by a Conservative minister, effectively promising that no more turbines will get planning permission.
Mr Delingpole then said that he would not, in fact, stand in Corby.
Following those events, Mr Heaton Harris was recorded apparently suggesting that the possibility of a Delingpole candidacy had led to Mr Hayes’ comments. The sequence of events was “contrived,” he suggested.
Mr Heaton Harris last night insisted that claims he encouraged Mr Delingpole to stand were unfounded, because Mr Delingpole had never formally been a candidate in the by-election.
He insisted that he had not worked against the Conservative Party in any way: “I would never betray a party I have been a member of for 25 years.”
Mr Hayes said that there was no question of his being influenced by events in Corby.
He said: “My views on onshore wind energy are longstanding and well known and certainly not contrived as an ‘elaborate plan’ involving Chris Heaton-Harris, James Delingpole or anyone else.”
Michael Dugher MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister without Portfolio, said: “This is yet more evidence of the Conservative Party in chaos.
“It is astonishing that a Conservative MP appears to have encouraged a rival candidate to run in a by-election in order to campaign against windfarms. David Cameron needs to get a grip on his divided and out of touch party.”
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