Ed Miliband has a teenage fanclub. I’m not making this up, he really does, and not just because Buzzfeed says so. It genuinely seems – though veteran politics geeks may find it hard to believe – that there is a small group of teenage girls on the internet who are currently engaged in the promotion of an Ed Miliband fandom. (To those unacquainted with the concept, a fandom is an internet subculture dedicated to a person or thing that is obsessive in its interest, often fixating on minor details or snippets of information about said subject of adulation.)
While a fandom related to Benedict Cumberbatch or Harry Potter is par for the course, the fixation of girls too young to vote with the leader of the opposition is less so. In a media climate where a male politician is considered a cad for having had several relationships with good-looking and successful women years ago, cool is usually hard to come by, especially for a man in his 40s with two kitchens who has never heard of Vice.
Yet as I write, #milifandom is the biggest trending topic on Twitter, probably because journalists are clambering over one another to try and understand just what is going on. I’ve never been one to take Twitter as an arbiter of anything much, not least public opinion, but there’s no denying that the love is there. “It all started out as a joke but now I think I legitimately fancy Ed Miliband,” tweeted user @elliegalaxies. “If mum doesn’t vote Ed I’m leaving home,” said “Katie//revision”, or @cumberphan, as she is also known (she has clearly switched allegiances quite recently). These are two examples of many hundreds of messages.
It’s easy to dismiss teenage girls. Many people do, considering them obsessive, hormonal and lacking in reason. They may have been the main force behind Beatlemania, a fandom devoted to an indisputably brilliant band, but nowadays they are more likely to be associated with saccharine, fake-tanned pop automatons One Direction. This, of course, ignores all the teenage girls out there who are obsessing over niche concerns; whether it’s the mistreatment of orca whales, the works of Sylvia Plath, comic books or the music of Throbbing Gristle. No one can obsess like a teenage girl, or indeed, a teenager – it’s not gender specific, this love of one’s subject, of pop cultural minutiae, it’s just that teenage girls are more vocal about it.
They’re not stupid, as anyone with a teenage sister or daughter will know. Seventeen-year-old Abby, who is credited with starting the fandom, has said, “#milifandom started because we were all fed up of Rupert Murdoch bullying Ed and people believing the lies he tells about him. #VoteLabour”. She also told Buzzfeed: “We just want to change opinions so people don’t just see the media’s usual distorted portrayal of him – and actually see him for who he is. Ed is just a great guy and how many other politicians have a fandom? 0. We’re just waiting for him to acknowledge it [because] it’s kinda sad when he only ever sees people write mean things about him.”
And there, in that statement, is everything you need to know. You might say that #milifandom represents the “meme-ification” of politics (certainly, there is a meme happening), that it’s the reductive distillation of a man’s political outlook and policies into a meaningless symbol of lust for a shallow internet generation of young women interested only in the man’s heartthrob status. But, let’s face it, teenage girls only declare their desire for someone who is attractive enough to merit it. (They’re not buying cardboard cut-outs of William Hague off Amazon, are they?) And, on the internet, your declaration of interest says something about who you are. This says: I am progressive and I follow politics with a keen sense of irony. And I fancy Ed Miliband.
Furthermore, there’s an engagement with political coverage here that is impossible to ignore. Milifans have observed and noted the endless effluence directed towards Miliband by the rightwing press and have decided to fight back.
But they’re not old enough to vote, so why should we care? From experience, I can tell you that teenage girls are some of the world’s most passionate advocates of social justice. (Why else do so many of them become vegetarians?) At their age, my group of friends all read the newspaper and Private Eye; we followed the general election and had a keen eye not just for satire, but for injustice. Some of this Ed enthusiasm is undoubtedly a semi-ironic acknowledgement of a confused desire to shag the leader of the opposition, as expressed by numerous Vines – one of which shows a close-up of Miliband’s awkward television smile, clearly filmed in a living room and set to the saxophone bit in Careless Whisper (12.6 thousand likes). Because who isn’t preoccupied by shagging when they’re a teenager?
But it’s not only that. #milifandom is a welcome antidote to the usual general election coverage, which has been largely tedious and humourless. Much of the analysis has focused on political manoeuvring rather than policy, and assumes a level of political knowledge, often going back decades, with which most young people struggle to identify. Yet talk to any of those teenage girls and I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew their policies. Abby wrote back in April that she started #milifandom because David Cameron thought that at 17 she wasn’t old enough to vote. She said she wanted to “show how powerful young people are”. She’s now trying to get Miliband to come into her college for an interview.
It just goes to demonstrate that teenagers now know more about public relations that an entire, privately educated political press team. Politicians should start tailoring their policies towards young people, sharpish, before the whole landscape changes. And it will change. It is changing.
But can I just say that I was there first? I’ve sort of fancied him for ages <3