I want you to imagine a student sabbatical election: The candidates for union president have put forward their manifestos, different visions of progress and how to take the university forward. They claim to represent students, to understand their frustrations and ambitions and they believe that they are the best person to serve the students and their union. One of these candidates has run a popular campaign for change and progress. Their proposed policies have gained huge support across the campus and yet they are still unlikely to win because of a personal smear campaign that has been run against them. Despite their policies, people have criticised them for being a geek, for looking too ugly and sounding too strange. They were never part of a sports team and photos from their Facebook profile are used to show that they are just too weird to be union president.

I would imagine and hope that such a reality would be rejected by students as a form of victimising and bullying, distorting the campaign. I would imagine that there would be outrage at such superficial student politics, which belittled any who did not match our visions of beauty or social standing. After all, these are principles that are drilled into us at a young age – why should we treat others differently because of what they look or sound like, especially if we believe in what they are saying?

You may have guessed where I’m going with this because it is precisely what is happening in the current general election. I have witnessed parents and teachers, politicians, journalists and numerous other respectable adults all claim that they couldn’t vote for Ed Miliband because he is just too weird. He has been called a geek and a weirdo, been ridiculed for the way he eats and the way he talks. I wonder whether that is the outlook that these respectable adults will hope to instil in their children. Should they learn that in order to reach the top and earn respect you must conform to the aesthetic judgements of others and be that most odious of terms – ‘cool’?

Our journalists have chosen not to focus on a vision for our country which many share but have instead launched a bullying campaign of personal abuse. They have ignored the side of a man who holds a passion for politics and is driven by principles of fairness and equality, and have instead sought to question whether a man who doesn’t look good eating a bacon sandwich can be trusted to lead our country.

It is nothing new in politics. Blair was rushed to victory as the youthful and vigorous candidate opposed to the stale, bland image of John Major. Barack Obama ignited American politics in 2008 as the fresh young Senator opposing the ageing John McCain. Image undoubtedly matters to voters but should it really be enough to stop them voting for a candidate whose policies they support?

Miliband has unsurprisingly rejected this focus on image claiming that: ‘I believe that people would quite like somebody to stand up and say there is more to politics than the photo op’. He has called for people to vote based on policies and a vision for the future of our nation stating that: ‘If you want the politician from central casting, it’s not me, it’s the other guy. If you want a politician who thinks that a good photo is the most important thing, then don’t vote for me’. It is a challenge for our politics to be above empty words and personality, a challenge that starts with us, the voters.

The recent Twitter trend, ‘Milifandom’ which gripped thousands of people in the last week has been largely dismissed and patronised by the media, laughed away as Miliband’s following of teenage girls. Yet these teenage girls are doing something incredible by launching an ambitious campaign to oppose the negative imagery of the Labour leader, published relentlessly by Rupert Murdoch and other press sources. Challenging the toxic politics of mainstream media, they have campaigned for a focus on policies over image in a general election which sees having a popularity contest as being just as important as the issues of a recovering economy, a fragile NHS, housing problems, student fees and unemployment.

Perhaps the adults obsessing over the man who is just too weird to lead our country could learn a thing or two from a bunch of teenage girls who recognise that it is the issues and not the image that should matter in our politics. Miliband is standing up for the geeks in our society, the uncool and the unphotogenic to highlight that in Britain, whether it is in a classroom, a student election, or a general election, it is substance and not image that should matter.

With great hope for the general election,

Liam Faulkner

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