It's official, Brown's personal pollsters tried to fix another public consultation on new nuclear power.
Late yesterday we received an astonishing response to our complaint to the Marketing Research Standards Board about the government's second public consultation on nuclear power. The board sets the standards for opinion research and found that the market research company Opinion Leader Research breached the Code of Conduct. The board said Opinion Leader "information was inaccurately or misleadingly presented, or was imbalanced, which gave rise to a material risk of respondents being led towards a particular answer."
Last year we won a High Court ruling that overturned the first public consultation on nuclear power. Justice Sullivan ruled that it had been "manifestly unfair" and "unlawful" and said that the second consultation must ask selected members of the public their views on nuclear power.
So Opinion Leader, Brown's personal pollster, was hired to conduct polling across the country on the government's proposal to include new nuclear power stations as part of our energy mix. It didn't take long for word to get back to us that this polling was heavily biased. Several people commented on our blog here and here saying that they were "presented with a biased/ heavily unbalanced argument" and "myself and others felt like we were being misled and manipulated."
We then filed a complaint with the Market Research Standards Board based on our analysis of the polling questions asked to members of the public and the materials they were shown. Positive messages about nuclear power were made as statements of fact ('Nuclear power stations could make an important contribution to reducing the UK's CO2 emissions') while negative issues for nuclear power required answers by degree, with the loaded term 'satisfied' included in the question ('How satisfied are you with the Government's proposal to manage new nuclear waste in the same way as existing waste?')
It's been 13 months since that complaint was filed, the Marketing Standard's website says that complaints normally only take three months. In May, we made a Freedon of Information request asking for the release of government correspondence relating to our complaint. We wanted to know if John Hutton's department had tried to exert any pressure on the board and so far DEBERR has refused to hand over any such documentation "Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act, which applies where disclosure of information would or would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs." Despite subsequent letters from our lawyers, DBERR will still not release the documentation.
You have to ask where this leaves government energy policy after this ruling. The case for building new nuclear reactors is so weak that Brown's personal pollsters tried to fix the process and con the public. Opinion Leader are now required “to take corrective action with regard to the process that resulted in the breach in this case” – a development that leaves the government's energy policy in disarray.
Gordon Brown recently committed the UK to generating around 40% of our electricity from renewables by 2020. If he means it, Britain could become a world leader in clean energy, powering our homes and offices while slashing emissions. Yet his blind pursuit of nuclear risks blocking the delivery of the real solutions to climate change.
You can read the ruling for yourself here (pdf) and our complaint to the board from last year here (pdf).