For me, at least, this was a dull, tense and unhappy election campaign. Both main parties neck and neck, the SNP set to win the whole of Scotland, it should have been fascinating, exciting, truly engaged politics, but things had been turned horribly snide.
I don’t want to be unfairly partisan, and I’m sure there are huge local issues about individual constituency parties being horrible, but a lot of the cynical nasty stuff seems to have come from the Conservatives. It began with Michael Fallon’s attack on Miliband as “backstabbing” his brother. And as the newspapers revealed, Rupert Murdoch criticised his own newspaper editors for not being horrible enough to Ed Miliband. It was further exacerbated by the insistence that the SNP would control any Miliband government.
Whatever you think about the realities or unrealities of that, the fact that this is a campaign strategy is depressing. For every news minute devoted to how bad the other side is, that is an opportunity lost to have a deeper and better debate about what sort of country we are. In particular I was cross that the focus seemed to be soley on Ed Miliband – mainly that he was in turns a treacherous schemer, then an incompetent poodle of the SNP, then a womaniser (he’d had girlfriends before he got married, you see), and mainly just that he looked a bit funny. It was snide, witless and normally unpleasant.
In a time of political upheaval, where what was a two party system has now become more of a five or more party system, there is a huge need for a substantial debate. Which is why the negative campaigning made me feel low about our electoral process.
But last night, on twitter, I saw a trend. #Milifandom. It was mainly a group of young teenage women, most of whom could not vote because they were under eighteen, having fun with the idea of seeing Ed Miliband not as a funny-looking geek, but as a sex symbol. It was not snide, or sneering, indeed quite the opposite. It was more PG Wodehouse than Spitting Image.
There’s an article about it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32413372
It was indeed wholly centred about his looks – only in the opposite direction to that of the tabloid press. But there was an important point – indeed several important points, made by the originator(s) of #milifandom, a seventeen year old labour supporter called Abbey. She was fed up of both the way that the press were focussing on looks not policies – to quote her, “you should vote on policies not sandwiches” (referring to that famous photo of Ed Miliband gurning as he ate a bacon sandwich) – and more importantly she was frustrated that sixteen to eighteen year olds, who were clever, educated and interested in politics, were not allowed to vote.
What followed over the last couple of days was very instructive – a sort of satire which is life affirming not denying, which often involved a huge amount of wit, and a few light, pirouetting layers of humour which many folk simply did not “get” – and a good deal of reaction, which contrasted sharply.
Some folk assumed at first it was another nasty way of getting at Ed Miliband – after all, it did have pictures of him with his head superimposed on David Beckham’s body, then on Hulk Hogan, on the shirtless figure from Poldark etc. And those folk joined in, with unfunny captions on unflattering photos. They were ignored, rather than attacked. They responded badly, calling the #milifans “mongoloids” (I kid you not) but they were still ignored. The worst response I saw was “Hope you’re okay, hun” – a reference to Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s brilliant tweet in response to a high-handed denunciation by Jim Murphy of David Cameron on Twitter.
It was fun, and it was daft, silly and just what I needed in this dour campaign, but more than that, it was a group of people who are disenfranchised in this election making sure that their voice was being heard, in their way, in their medium. It wasn’t just “fangirly”, it was often subtle, clever and astute, and left the “haters” (as the young folk say) looking like lumbering oafs.
Ed Miliband promised in the election manifesto to reduce the age of voting to sixteen. I hope this is one promise which a politician does indeed seek to honour.