Lord Howell of Guildford, the father-in-law of Chancellor George Osborne, has warned that the Conservatives will lose thousands of votes if they allow fracking to go ahead in Tory heartlands in southern England rather than the industrial north.
He said that areas such as northeast and northwest England would be grateful for fracking and the jobs it brings, as these were areas where “the Industrial Revolution has left the worst historical scars”.
Lord Howell also said that “bribing” wealthy rural communities with various government benefits would “lose rural votes on a major scale”.
Writing for the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, Lord Howell says: “Trying to start [fracking] in Southern England, and in the Home counties, or in rural and countryside areas anywhere, north or south, is a guarantee of longer delays, higher costs and increased hostility from both green left and countryside right.
“Every time Ministers open their mouths to claim that fracking must start everywhere around Britain, and not just in carefully selected and remote (derelict) areas, they lose thousands of Tory votes.
“In the north east, the north west and all the places where the Industrial revolution has left the worst historical scars they do have just such areas, they have the gas and they have the local wish to see fracking investment – to upgrade old coal mining areas, for example.”
Rural southern England is traditionally a centre of support for the Conservative Party, with some seats not having changed hands for over century. Although the party may previously have been able to afford to lose some support in these seats, the rise of the UK Independence Party means they are now at risk of having their vote undermined in their own heartlands.
Northern England, by contrast, has a much more industrial past and would therefore be more likely to welcome shale drilling, and the jobs it creates. It also tends to vote Labour, meaning that the government would not need to worry as much about losing support.
Last year, Lord Howell caused controversy with similar comments when he said that fracking should begin in the “desolate” northeast, rather than more “sensitive” areas, such as wealthy Sussex. He later apologised for any offence caused, stating that he meant the northwest.