20 Apr 2015

Will Milimania end the way Cleggmania did?

If we didn’t all know how the story of Cleggmania ended five years ago, I might be tempted to start sounding off about Milimania. I refer most recently to the somewhat implausible spectacle of Ed Miliband being mobbed by a hen party, describing him alternately as “adorable” or “lovely”.

Implausible because this is the man who has been roundly mocked by the media for everything from gobbling a bacon sarnie to giving money to a homeless lady. So it does seem rather puzzling that he’s now getting the kind of reception to which Nick Clegg became accustomed before the bubble burst and he threw in his lot with David Cameron. What’s going on?

The first thing to say is that the improvement in Miliband’s popularity does appear to be genuine, if the polls are to be believed. A Survation poll discovered earlier this month that his personal approval rating had overtaken the prime minister’s for the first time. And, in findings which mirror Clegg’s popularity among young voters pre-2010, a new poll from the youth research agency YouthSight, has shown a rapid increase in the number of students liking Miliband, up from 4 per cent in February to 11 per cent now. The question is why?

Labour is convinced the TV debates have gone well for its leader, and it is certainly the case that a general election campaign gives any opposition leader the chance to get the kind of airtime and newspaper coverage normally accorded only to a prime minister. But there must be more to it than that. After all, putting Miliband on TV or on the front of a newspaper hasn’t always gone that well for him in the past. Much-maligned by journalists, the Labour leader has struggled to look prime ministerial, as Nicola Sturgeon was reported to have told the French ambo.

Perhaps Brits, ever-supportive of the underdog, have tired of the negativity both of the press and Conservative campaign HQ. As a minutely-scripted, anally-retentive election campaign unfolds, you can’t blame voters for being tempted to adopt a contrarian position.

That was partly what fuelled Cleggmania last time round. Faced with the establishment alternatives, people thought for a moment that Nick Clegg looked like a breath of fresh air. And for students, the promise on tuition fees was an offer too good to refuse – too good to be true as it turned out.

But Labour spinners frantically retweeting the hen party selfies (#Ed #henparty #adorable #lovely) should remember what happened to Cleggmania in the privacy of the ballot box. The Lib Dems won five fewer seats. #awkward.

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