Conference: Nuclear power – the raw politics

SizewellWill 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?

Lib Dem Voice has published some discussion of this by Tom Burke and Camilla Berens.

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.

Already the party is under attack for abandoning our commitments from green groups like Friends of the Earth and from independent commentators like Business Green.

Let’s use Glasgow to turn the tide of criticism and rebuild our support among voters.

* Mike Tuffrey is a former councillor and London Assembly member, works in the field of corporate sustainability and is a trustee of the New Economics Foundation.

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This entry was posted in Conference and Op-eds.


  • Sorry to use this space but the Romanian Ads are still appearing. The problem isnt confined to LDV, Labour List have got them as well.

  • Decarbonising the UK is the most important environmental goal. That means we need to switch transport, heating and hot water to electricity. That means (even with massive efficiency improvements) we need to double our electricity production (see CAT zero carbon Britain reports). Doing that while shutting down nuclear is a crazy task. The fastest way to decarbonise is be building nuclear and renewables, but remember that all wind turbines currently in the UK produce less average power than the proposed Hinkley Point C.

  • Pieter Minnaar 13th Sep '13 - 1:41pm

    The question is if political parties have the will and competence to lead on this issue or are you going to follow opinion polls?
    The fact is that nuclear power is needed and it is green. The statement here that “no solution has yet been found” for nuclear waste is completely wrong. There are solutions and the solutions are safe, if you care to research the matter you will see that the nuclear waste problem does have a solution.
    The question about how renewables will ever gain critical mass if the high costs of nuclear crowds out resources and public funding can be turned around. How can we have reliable nuclear power with the high costs of new and unproven renewables are crowding out investment in nuclear power?
    As for the party being under attack by green groups and independent commentators like Business Green. I think the name Business Green already says a lot about the independence of the commentator.
    Compare the CO2 emissions of Germany, the UK and France and then ask yourself which country is doing better on the environment

  • Julian Tisi 13th Sep '13 - 1:52pm

    This seems to be completely the wrong way round. We should support nuclear if we believe it’s required as a vital part of our energy mix for the next few decades and oppose it if we don’t. This is the sort of “focus group” politics that I think is rather vacuuous – plus I wonuldn’t particularly put much store by a survey funded by Greenpeace.

    For my part, I hope we support nuclear energy because it’s the cheapest form of low carbon energy out there, with the exception of energy efficiency. I think we need nuclear as part of the mix if we’re serious about de-carbonising energy generation. But it’s a very sad irony that nuclear is opposed by most of the green movement.

  • Richard Dean 13th Sep '13 - 2:02pm

    I agree with Julian that it’s the wrong way round. As a political party we have several roles. One is representation, but another is leadership. If we lead, then we first determine what we believe is the best way forward, and we then present the arguments to persuade voters that we are right.

  • Richard Dean 13th Sep '13 - 3:39pm

    Very helpful, Doug. The link shows a net more likely as 22%, and a net less likely as 23%. Unless I’ve completely misread the data in the link, this seems to suggest that Mike Tuffrey’s is wrong that “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”. His response would certainly be appreciated. Isn’t the 1% “insignificant”, in the jargon, because of being within the margin of statistical interpretation error?

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Sep '13 - 4:02pm

    Well spotted, Richard. Indeed Mike Tuffrey has been guilty of the (sadly normal) widespread first sin of statistics in public debate: cherry-picking his data. He tells us what Lib Dem and Labour voters say but ignores the fact that Tory voters (a group of about the same size as Labour voters and much bigger than “Lib Dem defectors”) say they are considerably less likely (by 32% to 14%) to vote Lib Dem if the party remains opposed to nuclear. Above all, he ignores what you rightly identify as the only really relevant figure: overall effect on the electorate, which is null. This is good, as it means policy can be decided on the basis of what’s right rather than spurious appeals to popularity.

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