Life after Milifandom – and why Ed isn’t to blame if I fail my Russian history AS-level

The #milifandom leader Abby Tomlinson on A-levels, the election comedown - and why the voting age should be lowered to 16 for the EU referendum.

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Bliss: I’ve just finished my AS-level exams and am looking forward to eight weeks of summer break. I have no idea how I did but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Because I caused a splash during the election by leading the Milifandom – we were the ones who ran the pictures of the then Labour leader with the photoshopped flower crowns – one of my teachers joked that if I don’t do well in my Russian history exam, he would go to the Sun to say it was Ed Miliband’s fault for distracting me.

Until results day on 13 August, I’m filling the time with five trips down to London for various exciting reasons. When eventually I make up my mind about who I’m backing for Labour leader, I’ll be doing a whole lot of campaigning. There will be an absurd amount of reading in preparation for A-level courses and university applications, as well as the dreaded personal statement, in which you are forced to brag about your achievements in the most cringeworthy manner possible while explaining your passion for your chosen subject – except that you’re not allowed to use the word “passion” or any of its close synonyms. On top of that, you know you’re up against people who have been trained to write Oxbridge-level statements ever since Eton or Cheltenham Ladies began to take a tidy chunk out of their parents’ wages. Joyous times, indeed.

 

Rules of engagement

Much to my dismay, the House of Commons has decided against lowering the voting age to 16 for the EU referendum. The majority of the No votes were cast by Conservative MPs. They mostly gave laughable reasons for doing so, although in the interests of fairness we shouldn’t forget the delusional comment from the Labour MP Barry Sheerman that allowing 16-year-olds to have a say in their country’s future would “shrink childhood” and make them more vulnerable to sexual abuse.

I think the real reason why so many MPs were against 16- and 17-year-olds having the vote in the EU referendum was that they knew that young people would use their vote, as the Scottish independence referendum last year showed. A high turnout among teenagers would considerably strengthen the case for enfranchising 16- and 17-year-olds at general elections, too.

I don’t mean to stereotype but, in my experience, young people are often more left-wing than older generations – yet another reason why the Conservative Party doesn’t want them casting their vote. David Cameron and his minions would never say this out loud, so they stick to the argument that the existence of politically engaged teenagers is a myth. The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, might also consider that if she doesn’t think 16- and 17-year-olds know enough about politics to vote, maybe that’s a problem she should be solving.

There is still hope that the amendment could be forced through in the House of Lords but we’ll have to wait and see.

 

Ain’t no Sun shine

For many of us, the question on our lips is: who can, should and will succeed Ed Miliband as the leader of the Labour Party? I’m struggling so far to find a candidate who ticks all the boxes.

Take the most right-wing candidate, Liz Kendall: her rhetoric is full of conviction and resonates with people, both in and outside the party, who feel that Labour should revert to the message and style that won three elections from 1997 onwards. But I think her delivery lacks emotion and can come across at times as robotic. Not to mention that she has the backing of the Sun, which is hardly a positive endorsement.

Then we have Jeremy Corbyn at the opposite end of the spectrum. He seems genuinely angry about injustice and passionately wants to help people. His attraction as a candidate is that he makes you want to stand up and cheer. He should not be underestimated. Finally, we have Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, who seem to hold the middle ground. It can be difficult to find much of a difference between them.

At the televised Newsnight hustings in Nuneaton on 17 June, Burnham was criticised heavily for saying, “The party comes first.” Kendall tried to make him look stupid by rebutting with: “The country comes first.” I thought it was obvious that Burnham meant it only within the context of the party and wasn’t speaking about the country as a whole, so I wasn’t impressed with Kendall’s unnecessary attempt to make herself look better. I had thought that the TV debate would help me make up my mind but, for me, it still looks like a three-horse race between Cooper, Corbyn and Burnham. Although I won’t rule out Kendall just yet, she has an awful lot of persuading to do.

 

Milifan for ever

On to the politician that I am most closely associated with: Ed Miliband. I’ve seen various comments and articles about how he should be staying away from mainstream politics after the election. As I have said before, he certainly doesn’t need my advice, but I find those statements a bit ridiculous. He recently appeared in parliament (where he works) and smiled at someone. The Times decided that this was front-page news and ran it with the caption “Fancy seeing you back here”. Can you imagine that – an MP in the House of Commons? Whatever next? Teachers in schools, mechanics in garages, waiters in restaurants? Ed Miliband is being criticised by the press for doing his job and representing his constituents. What do they want him to do?

If he hadn’t made an appearance yet, the headlines would have read: “Disappear-Ed! Miliband lets down constituents”. Whatever he does, the media attack him for it. This is a man who is trying to do the right thing despite the overwhelming negativity of the press towards him. His brilliant speech on inequality in June showed that he will continue to do this for the foreseeable future. Thank God for that.

Abby Tomlinson is a student from Lancashire who leads the #milifandom on Twitter. She tweets as @twcuddleston

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This article appears in the 26 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Bush v Clinton 2