Earlier this week, an analysis in The Telegraph presented a fair warning to voters and media members alike to avoid falling for narratives that are calling the British General Election too early. The fact is that the race for the most seats in Parliament is extremely close, and it's also a dead heat between David Cameron and Ed Miliband for Prime Minister. The Telegraph, however, points to an increasingly loud public opinion that Miliband is somehow in the driver's seat, citing various premature polling summaries and analyses. "Do not succumb," the article warns at its closing, to "midpoint disease"—the desire to pick a favourite with a great deal of time yet to go in the election.
And yet what this article seems to not realise is that it's exactly this sweeping narrative that's propelling Ed Miliband out in front of David Cameron, at least in the media frenzy for attention, if not in the party polls. Naturally, this has the potential to open up a "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" type of debate: did Ed Miliband gain ground in the polls and then become more admired? Or did he somehow become more admired in a way that led to a rise in the polls?
In this case, it's beginning to seem like the latter, as Ed Miliband's incredibly strong presence online and in social channels seems to be singlehandedly propelling him toward the Prime Minister's seat.
In fact, Bet Fair politics posted a recent analysis on trends in the general election that went as far as to suggest that "Milifandom" on social media could make Ed Miliband the next PM. "Social media has gone into an Ed Miliband frenzy," the analysis noted. It went on to state that a Twitter movement that was initially a joke—promoting Miliband as a sex symbol—could have very real political ramifications. Indeed, the article provided some examples of various Internet memes and videos that are unlike anything we've seen in world politics for serious candidates. Generally, these sort of gags are reserved for fringe candidates or delusional small party goofs.
The Guardian even compared the Ed Miliband social media movements to those "usually reserved for the likes of Justin Bieber and One Direction," noting that the hashtag "#Milifandom" has been trending in the UK. A student named Abby, who is credited with starting that hashtag, suggested to the Guardian that Milifandom is about combatting the "distorted media portrayal of Ed."
This is an admirable idea, certainly. But are UK voters really ready to accept that Ed’s previous media portrayal was more distorted than a social movement that has placed Miliband in rap music videos and photoshopped his head onto Daniel Craig's shirtless body? The #Milifandom movement has actually been a great deal of fun, and at the very least, it's given Ed Miliband the popularity he needs to make his actual opinions on policy heard more loudly. But if, as people are beginning to suggest, a half-joking social media movement is about to propel a candidate all the way to Prime Minister, the UK might need a wake-up call about how to view political candidates.