The Conservatives’ campaign manager for the Corby and East Northamptonshire by-election has apologised after being filmed apparently admitting he encouraged a rival candidate.
In the covert footage Chris Heaton-Harris suggested his friend James Delingpole, a Daily Telegraph writer, had put his name forward as part of a “strategy” against onshore wind farms.
Speaking to a Greenpeace activist posing as a wind power opponent last month, the Daventry MP said: “There’s a bit of strategy behind what’s going on.
“I’m running the Corby by-election for the Tories ... And Delingpole, who is my constituent, and a very good friend... put his head above the parapet but won’t put his deposit down... It’s just part of the plan.”
During another slightly garbled exchange, Mr Heaton-Harris seems to confess that he put Mr Delingpole up to the stunt.
“Please don’t tell anybody ever. But he will not be putting his deposit down. He just did it because it’s a long campaign, it’s six weeks to cause some hassle and get, and get people talking,” he added.
Mr Delingpole withdrew from the race two weeks ago the day after Conservative energy minister John Hayes, who represents the Deepings, controversially told the Daily Mail the development of onshore wind farms would be reined in.
In a statement last night, 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.
“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.”
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.”
The by-election to replace Louise Mensch will take place tomorrow to coincide with the police and crime commissioner elections.