Tory MP apologises for appearing to encourage rival in Corby by-election

Chris Heaton-Harris MP was secretly recorded by Greenpeace activists

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A Tory MP has apologised for appearing to encourage a potential rival candidate in the Corby by-election.

Chris Heaton-Harris was secretly recorded saying he "suggested" James Delingpole, a critic of wind farms, put himself forward as an independent to push the issue up the agenda and "cause some hassle" during the campaign.

Mr Delingpole ultimately decided not to stand in the election.

The MP said he was guilty of "bragging" but did not enter into a "secret plan".

The story comes a day ahead of voting in the marginal constituency, where the Conservatives are trying to hold onto a seat they won from Labour at the last election.

It also comes amid tensions between Conservative and Lib Dem ministers at the Department for Energy and Climate Change about policy towards on-shore wind and renewable energy in general.

'Good friend'

Mr Heaton-Harris, MP for Daventry and himself a critic of wind farms, is running the campaign for the Tories' candidate in Corby, Christine Emmett.

He was secretly recorded at last month's Conservative conference by pressure group Greenpeace - which supports expanding windfarms - talking about Mr Delingpole's intentions.

Start Quote

The implication that I choreographed any sort of 'secret plan' is simply not the case and I apologise if that is the impression given”

End Quote Chris Heaton-Harris

In the recording, some of which is inaudible, Mr Heaton-Harris told a Greenpeace representative, posing as a lobbyist, that the journalist and wind farm opponent was a "very good friend" and was willing to "put his head above the parapet" over the issue of the number of turbines being built in England.

The MP suggested Mr Delingpole, a Daily Telegraph journalist, would not put down a deposit, required for a candidate to officially stand in an election, but would mount a campaign that would "put it (the issue) on the agenda".

"It is just part of the plan," he was recorded as saying. "I mean I actually essentially suggested to him he did it. Which puts me in a very awkward... Please do not tell anybody ever."

He added: "He just did it as it is a long campaign, it is six weeks to cause some hassle and get people talking."

'Bragging'

Mr Delingpole initially indicated he might stand in the election, telling the BBC in September that he did not have "a snowball's chance in hell of winning" but he had an opportunity "to speak on behalf of many people who don't have a voice right now".

But he did not ultimately put his name forward and has yet to comment on the row.

In a statement, Mr Heaton-Harris 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.

Start Quote

The coalition's position on wind farms and green energy will not change because the Liberal Democrats will not let it”

End Quote Simon Hughes Lib Dem deputy leader

"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."

A Conservative Party spokesman said that, while Mr Heaton-Harris would have spoken to Mr Delingpole "like all parties talk to each other", the MP had strongly denied encouraging the journalist to stand or helping his abortive campaign.

"He has been caught out boasting; it's no more than that," he said.

The by-election was triggered by former MP Louise Mensch's decision to stand down for family reasons.

'Stab in the back'

The siting of on-shore wind farms is an issue in the Corby election, with critics unhappy at recent decisions by the Planning Inspectorate to approve projects in Northamptonshire.

Labour said the Conservative campaign in the constituency was "in chaos", while the Lib Dems said some Conservatives were so intent on disrupting the coalition's green agenda they were "prepared to stab their own candidates in the back to do it".

"The coalition's position on wind farms and green energy will not change because the Liberal Democrats will not let it," the party's deputy leader Simon Hughes said.

The Green Party called for Mr Heaton-Harris's resignation, saying the episode showed the MP "held the democratic process in contempt".

The UK Independence Party said it had "no problem" with the MP campaigning against wind farms, but insisted it was the only party that would stop them being built.

Lib Dem Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey is supportive of further expansion as part of a diverse energy mix but junior Conservative minister John Hayes has suggested no more wind turbines should be built in England after those currently in the pipeline were finished.

There are 14 candidates standing in Corby. Polling stations will be open from 07:00 GMT to 22:00 GMT on Thursday.

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