Tory MP says fracking could cost party the next election and '˜the barnacle must be removed from the boat'

The Conservative Party could lose the next general election unless it drops its support for fracking, an MP and campaigners from the region have warned.

North East Derbyshire MP Lee Rowley, a former oil and gas analyst, said the Government’s backing of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is a “barnacle that needs to be removed from the Conservative boat as quickly as possible”, in a nod to Tory election strategist Sir Lynton Crosby.

Mr Rowley said there are around 200 seats where licenses have been granted, many of which are marginals.

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He warned the mass of opposition the fledgling industry has already generated shows voters could punish the Tories at the ballot box in key seats by backing Labour for their commitment to ban fracking.

There has been widespread opposition to the prospect of fracking starting in Yorkshire.

He was backed by Kenelm Storey, owner/manager of the Settrington Estate and Thirsk and Malton Conservative Association president, and Ryedale anti-fracking campaigner Frank Colenso, with the trio warning that there will need to be around 6,000 shale gas wells around the country for fracking to be an economic success.

Mr Rowley told a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham: “At the moment the lion has not roared on fracking because we have dealt with less than a dozen applications in this country for the last eight years. If we’re to do it at scale, if we’re to achieve whatever objective the Government is setting, we will have to have hundreds in Derbyshire.

“We cannot go from the level of objections that we have had with one well to hundreds of them and not expect a political impact.

“We (the Tories) have so many problems at the moment... we all want to get back on to domestic agenda items as quickly as we can because we saw last week the danger of Jeremy Corbyn if we don’t do that.

“This is not what we need to do - Lynton Crosby used to have a phrase and it was ‘we need to take the barnacles off the boat’.

“This barnacle needs to be removed from the Conservative boat as quickly as possible.”

The Government’s consultation on whether fracking should be “permitted development”, meaning projects could go ahead without getting local planning permission, closes on October 25.

Mr Storey warned the Tories would lose swathes of voters if the rule change goes ahead.

“The pendulum of public opinion has swung against fracking and will, I strongly suspect, continue swinging against it,” he said.

“It would be a pity for the Conservative Party to be caught on the wrong side of the argument and of history, especially given the national need for votes, seats and proper majority power.”

Mr Colenso said North Yorkshire’s tourism, farming and food production industry could be devastated by fracking.

“We have to change the mindset over shale gas otherwise it will devastate large swathes of rural England at the expense of disenfranchising thousands of Conservative voters,” he said.

Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis suggested voters in areas where fracking may go ahead will focus on other issues when deciding who to vote for in a general election.

He also claimed that in some areas where fracking is proposed some voters actually support it, adding: “What happens in a general election is people look at what you are doing for the country and how you are making sure that their life is better tomorrow than it is today.

“Part of that is around having a good energy offer and good energy security for the future but also yes, making decisions that are right for any given community.