First published by Independent Voices 22nd April 2015

I have a confession to make. I am a Milifan. I’ve had an embarrassing crush on him ever since he went on Desert Island Discs and chose Paul Robeson’s the Ballad of Joe Hill in memory of his father Ralph. I identify with his awkwardness and the way he doesn’t always come across smoothly. If I was a couple of years younger, I’d stick the picture of him in his Fawcett Society ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt on my bedroom wall. And as of this week, I am absolutely not alone.

Ed Miliband has joined the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston as a teen heartthrob, thanks to an AS Level student called Abby. Her follower count has surged to 15,000 since she started the Milifandom hashtag, and many teenage supporters are changing their profile pictures to images of the Leader of the Opposition.On paper, Ed Miliband seems like the most unlikely candidate for a fandom. He’s one of those fusty politicians, straightjacketed into an interchangeable dark suit and ignorant of even the most basic slang. He’s been mocked for his hot dog eating skills and his two kitchens, and the Daily Mail have even done a clumsy smear job on his late father.
But it’s precisely Miliband’s aura of awkward uncool that’s slowly starting to make him… cool. He comes off as both gentle and genuine, honestly flattered by the attention of a raucous hen party in Chester, and completely unlike the shiny, insincere Cameron. There’s even a Twitter account that pastes Miliband’s face on icons like Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Luke Skywalker.The Milifandom represents a sea change in British politics. Not only are young people showing an unprecedented level of enthusiasm, but they’re indirectly standing up to the Murdoch press. On Tuesday, it came to light that Murdoch had berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to tarnish the image of Miliband, and urged them to sharpen their attack on him.

So should he now be worried about this new grassroots movement among young girls, who are doing this best to counter his attack? Based on what they’re saying, conservatives ignore them at their peril. Yesterday Abby tweeted that “#Milifandom is not a joke. It’s young people angry at the distorted presentation of Ed, trying to correct that + make themselves heard”. And she’s right. It’s clear that the press’ attempts to discredit Miliband are utterly transparent, and that young people are sick of being patronised by a media elite that doesn’t even pretend to maintain a veneer of objectivity.

The people who currently hold the reins of power in our country, those who protect the interests of themselves and their friends while throwing everyone else to the wolves, have become complacent. #Milifandom shows that they cannot afford to be. It doesn’t matter how many middle-aged columnists mock the hashtag as teenage stupidity; Abby and young people like her are using the tools at their disposal to engage with politics and politicians.

Sure, adding flower crowns to pictures of Miliband might not constitute traditional engagement, but this is a brave new world. If crushing on Ed makes you more likely to read up on policy and what the parties stand for, then crush away. It seems fitting that the bile of the right wing press is finally being challenged, not by an official enquiry, but by ordinary, love-struck teenagers on Twitter.
Miliband’s refusal to court the Murdoch empire and kowtow to their bullying tactics are paying off. He’s kept being himself, no matter what they’ve slung at him, and young people are responding to this.

I might even cast my ballot for Milibabe in May, and not just because he’s hella cute.

Posted by:harrietpwilliamson

Writer