Politics in the UK is usually a depressing mix of gaffes, blunders, sexist headlines, and barely-disguised racism, but it's been lifted from the gutter this week with help from an unexpected corner: teenage fangirls. Or, at least, teenagers who are kind-of-pretending, kind-of-not-pretending to be over-the-top supporters of opposition leader Ed Miliband, showering him with the sort of praise and adulation usually reserved for members of One Direction.
The whole meme seems to have been started by a 17-year-old student named Abby, who previously used Twitter mainly as a member of Tom Hiddleston's fandom. Abby says she was tired of seeing Miliband getting mocked in the UK press and wanted to do something to change the perception of him.
ed miliband flower crown edits pic.twitter.com/leGcMXjURg— caity (@russellhowhard) April 20, 2015
"Ed is just a great guy and how many other politicians have a fandom? Zero. We’re just waiting for him to acknowledge it because it’s kind of sad when he only ever sees people write mean things about him," she said in an interview with Buzzfeed UK. So, Abby used her Hiddleston experience to fill social media with positive messages about Miliband, deploying all the usual paraphernalia of fandom from inspirational tweets to sparkly Photoshops.
in the uk, Miliband is constantly portrayed as weak and weird
This might not sound too unusual, but in the UK, Miliband is a target for derision and the subject of numerous unflattering memes. His political opponents paint him as weak or weird, and he's been subjected to a barrage of unflattering headlines and articles in tabloid papers controlled by Rupert Murdoch. (Miliband has publicly feuded with Murdoch, whose support is considered a big boost to political campaigns in the UK.) The reaction to him from the #milifandom is something entirely different however.
There are photoshops of #CoolEdMiliband:
ed miliband can cut my deficit— charl (@arcticharl) April 2, 2015
Thinking about ed miliband pic.twitter.com/u0dcjb2qt8— rosie (@rosalind_dunn) April 16, 2015
Reposts of hunky photoshoots:
And general freaking out whenever he appears on TV:
— deni (@madsmikklsen) April 20, 2015
Are the #milifans serious? Are they joking? It's hard to say — teenagers are better at irony than pretty much everyone, and this is doubly true for teenagers on social media. The digital media scene in the UK is fairly close-knit however, and more than a few definitely-not-teenagers have jumped on the bandwagon. However, the meme's unofficial spokesperson Abby seems to genuinely support of Miliband's Labour Party, and tweets as much praise about his political policies as she does fandom-themed messages.
Teenagers are better at irony than everyone
In an interview with The Guardian, she insisted that the whole thing is not "tongue-in-cheek" and that the meme is simply a result of young people's anger and frustration at the political situation in the UK. "It is just young people angry that they can’t vote. [Conservative prime minister] David Cameron won’t give us a voice, so we are having our say anyway." As a 17-year-old, Abby is too young to vote, although Miliband himself has stepped into the fray to thank her for her support.
However, the whole political-fandom-meme looks close to being over just days after it began. This morning, the Conservative-supporting newspaper The Telegraph wrote up a supposed rival-fandom called the #cameronettes. The article seemed to be mostly about political point-scoring, with a now-deleted subheadline declaring without irony that the #milifandom "[risked] being overshadowed by growing Twitter love for David Cameron."
As you might expect — and as The Telegraph itself acknowledges — the #cameronette "teenage fanclub" is actually the work of a 21-year-old Conservative supporter who started it as a "joke." (Although the most recent message still reads: "PLEASE STOP ALL THE HATE. IM 13 IM NOT DAVID CAMERON OR ANY OTHER POLITIC PERSON. OKAY?") But so far the account has attracted just over 100 followers and approximately zero laughs, proving that making jokes about political fandom isn't enough — you have to mean it, too.