Most internet users are vaguely familiar with the concept of “fandom”. For those not in the know, it is a group of people who come together, generally on the internet, to celebrate their shared love of something they are all fans of. They draw fanart, they write fanfiction, they make gifs and costumes and collectively freak out about this thing they share a love for; One Direction, for example, or Harry Potter, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And in the furore of the general election, a new fandom has emerged: the Milifandom.
This group of young women (the Milifandom is predominantly young and female) gathered together online to express their love for Labour leader and potential prime minister, Ed Miliband. They retweet pictures of him captioned with heart emoji’s, they photoshop flower crowns on his head, they tweet each other about how much they would like to meet him. Think of teenage Beatles fans in the sixties, but updated for the internet, and focused on the 45 year old Labour leader.
The Milifandom began on Twitter, with seventeen year old Abby (@twcuddleston). When a buzzfeed article on it blew up, and various newspapers started asking her for interviews, she responded “I’m not doing any interviews. I have AS levels. Sorry.” Eventually, when it appeared the story was lasting much longer than a single news cycle, she spoke briefly with the Guardian, saying “Ed Miliband is often presented quite badly in the media. I think it’s really unfair, because no one actually looks at his policies. They just look at a picture of him eating a bacon sandwich and think “I don’t want that guy”. I want to change that.” While it may be easy to sneer at the interests of teenage girls, she is correct; and she has.
Because as well as sharing cute gifs of Ed Miliband, the Milifandom is also retweeting Labour’s policies (such as raising the minimum wage, saving the NHS and reducing tuition fees), providing links to join the Labour party, and calling out the Murdoch-owned papers shallow attempts at defaming Ed Miliband. I agree that Ed Miliband looks funny eating a bacon sandwich. But David Cameron eats a hot dog with a knife and fork, and once left his daughter in a pub. I enjoy the twitter @odd_miliband, and agree that he’s kind of a strange dude. But politics should not be a personality contest, and I would prefer a weird Prime Minister to one who thinks Katie Hopkins is an acceptable human being.
The apathy of young voters is often considered to be a large problem for the left, and attempts by middle-aged politicians to engage young voters are often cynical and embarrassing. In the form of the Milifandom, we have genuine engagement with politics from a group in which many are too young to vote yet. This is not a cringey, “hey kids!” attempt to make politics somehow cool, this is young people saying “look, I know it’s easy to be disenfranchised by this, but we have a choice here in which one option is noticeably less awful than the other”. A group of teenage girls with twitter accounts have had a more effective influence on Ed Miliband’s public image than Labour’s entire PR team.
And if this seems surprising, it probably shouldn’t be. Teenage girls are smart, and informed, and they change things. We have a generation of young women who are well-informed, self-loving and not about to take shit. There are teenage girls with a better understanding of feminist, post-colonial, queer theory than many university students I’ve met. There are teenage girls educating their parents, calling them out on their ingrained racism, sexism, transphobia.
Labour themselves are taking this support seriously – many Labour party members now follow members of the Milifandom on twitter, and Abby spoke on the phone to Ed Miliband in a conversation where he thanked her for her support. Add to this the @Cameronettes twitter of supposed David Cameron fans – suspiciously created on the day the Milifandom went viral, presumably by a member of the Conservative PR team – and it’s clear politicians understand the importance of this. In an election in which the outcome has been so difficult to predict, it’s entirely possible that the Milifandom could swing it in Labour’s favour.
[Clare Patterson – @clurrpatterson]