“This loopy idea that we can cover Britain in ugly disgusting ghastly windmills and that somehow our future energy needs will come from that”
(Nigel Farage 2013).
When I heard Mr Farage said this on the radio in 2013 I took note. UKIP hadn’t previously had much to say about rural Britain or renewable energy, and here he had packaged them into one neat bundle. I wanted to gain an understanding of how UKIP have been operating in rural areas, using some analytical software I collected a database of social media being produced by UKIP in 2012-3 to investigate that question. The word cloud presented here shows the 100 most commonly appearing words in that database and this formed the launching point for a much more detailed analysis of the topic but also how UKIP use social media. I’m preparing a full length academic paper on this but this blog post provides a summary.
1 – Most of the UKIP spokesmen in the database are not interested in using Twitter to debate with others but to promote their political ideas. This is evident from the way that they tend to connect to like-minded Twitter users and tend not to using indexing terms (hashtags #), so that the conversation is between the person posting and those who are following.
2 – At this time UKIP did not have a big organisational base in rural Britain, or particularly strong links to groups opposing renewable energy projects. Rather they were busy trying to link renewable energy to the role of the EU, the then Coalition government and the energy companies. As opposed to their vision of a market led economy based on fossil fuels, including shale gas and nuclear power.
3 – They had very little to say about rural Britain, with a limited number of postings about the beauty of the countryside, concern about litter, the value of country pubs and hunting. At the time they promised local residents a referendum on renewable energy projects, but the same idea would also apply to the fracking wells and nuclear power plants they backed.
4 – The opposition to renewables is in part based on a scepticism about climate change, with web links provided to groups who promote thinking that disputes the consensus on the significance and scope of these changes.
5 – That the foray into opposition to renewable energy is symbolic, it embodies a lot of what they oppose, and they must be seen to actively contest it. This is captured in a Tweet from their energy spokesman Roger Helmer:
Most of all, I hate wind turbines because they’re symbols of monstrous pointless waste, and futile political correctness (Helmer tweet 01/07/2012)
This suggests that although they are attempting to portray themselves as a political party with a broad suite of policies in this case it is opportunistic and far less important than the focus on leaving the EU.