Will the Lib Dems ditch their historic opposition to nuclear power? That debate is set to be one of the main flashpoints at the Glasgow conference. New polling evidence – published here for the first time – shows the outcome will affect support among key voter groups – ‘our market’, as the jargon goes – with all that means for key seats and the overall result of the next election.
Of course the debate itself will be about technical details: how nuclear technology can be called safe when no solution has yet been found for waste that remains lethally radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years; whether the promise of no public subsidy can be true if Brussels has to approve funding guarantees as “state aid”; and how renewables will ever gain critical mass if the high costs of nuclear crowds out resources and public funding for newer technologies?
But at least some of the argument in Glasgow must turn on what the voters themselves think and whether abandoning our opposition to nuclear power will influence their propensity to vote Liberal Democrat at the next general election.
Here we have some new evidence, in the form of an online survey conducted by Populus for Greenpeace at the end of August among a representative sample of adults in Britain.
Three key findings stand out from answers to the question “Would you be more or less likely to vote Lib Dem at the next election if the party pledged to oppose nuclear power?”
First, among our core voters, Lib Dem supporters are two to one more likely to vote for us if the party maintains its opposition: 41% more likely, 20% less likely. So the nuclear issue is vital in retaining our base vote.
Second, the survey asked about those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 but are not currently planning to do so again. For these ‘defectors’, continued opposition to nuclear power will make them more likely to return to voting Lib Dem (29% more, to 20% less). The same is true among Labour voters, where opposition makes the Liberal Democrats more attractive (26% to 18%).
Finally, the survey shows that women and young people are especially favourable to the anti-nuclear stance.
So the message about the raw politics of the debate is clear. We should not do another u-turn and keep true to our beliefs on this issue.
Let’s use Glasgow to turn the tide of criticism and rebuild our support among voters.
* Mike Tuffrey is chair of London region Liberal Democrats. He was an Assembly member from 2002 to 2012 and won his first election back in 1985 representing Vauxhall on the Greater London Council.