Ed Miliband: The geek in politics

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Too nerdy for Number 10? Not after that speech. But don't take Ed's word for it. Tom Peck surveys the evidence that it's suddenly hip to be square

Downtrodden geeks of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your adenoids. As well as a much-needed rallying call to the Labour Party faithful, Ed Miliband's surprisingly triumphant conference speech this week provided final confirmation of a truth that has been slowly but surely emerging: there has never been a better time to be decidedly uncool.

It began quietly enough. David Beckham pictured in black thick-rimmed spectacles, then Justin Timberlake, then the Grand Spectacular's online hit "Being A D***head's Cool", and The IT Crowd and The Big Bang Theory on Channel 4. But it is fitting that it has taken a bona fide, genuine geek to bring it surging into the mainstream. "When it came to maths, the way his brain works is incredible," testified one of Ed Miliband's former classmates in a party political broadcast celebrating the leader's phoney-rough, comprehensive school upbringing.

Mr Miliband told the BBC's Andrew Marr he was "proud" to be thought of as a pointy-headed policy wonk (the kind of pejoration only policy wonks understand). It is not so long ago he confessed to Piers Morgan that his main talent at school was being "really good at Rubik's cube". And yet, suddenly, it is more than just Ed's brother and special advisers who are having a "hang on a minute" moment, and thinking that this slightly awkward, slightly odd chap might just end up as Prime Minister. Whatever Mr Miliband thinks One Nation means, in the Benjamin Disraeli phrase he repeated hundred of times, come 2015 this one nation might just have a geek running the show.

When he returned to the conference hall the day after a speech widely regarded as the best by a Labour leader for years, delegates frantically waved all manner of objects to get his attention – a Welsh flag, a hard hat and, apparently a "spangly bag". Not quite knickers, but it's a start.

Mr Miliband has said many times how Baroness King of Bow, who also attended Haverstock School in Chalk Farm, north London, was "too cool" to hang around with him and his brother (how rough it must have been up on Primrose Hill, where even cool kids end up in Parliament). Evidently, he has realised a crucial fact, the final solution to the uncool question (someone really should tell the Prime Minister): just don't bother trying.

While brother David reportedly melted Hillary Clinton's heart when he was in the US as Foreign Secretary ("he is so vibrant, vital, attractive and smart" she said, admitting to having a "big crush" on him), Ed's appeal clearly lies elsewhere. And, unlike in his long lunch breaks at Haverstock with only a Rubik's cube for company, he is not alone.

Famously uncool: Other megageeks

1. Gareth Malone

Black thick-rimmed glasses: check. Tweed jacket: oh yes, and why wear a tie where a dicky-bow might go? Encouraging unlikely people into the noble art of choirdom has won Gareth Malone an OBE and, courtesy of his military wives' choir, a Christmas No 1.

2. James Morton

The young bakemeister's array of tank tops have dazzled fans – especially female ones – of the BBC's Great British Bake Off, almost as much as his near Jedi skills with pastry. Whoever knew that being polite, softly spoken, and being able to make an entire barn from gingerbread was the key to the nation's affections?

3. Mumford & Sons

Not many British bands who set off to conquer the States take their mandolin, banjo and accordion with them. But the very well brought up Mumford chaps have brought folk music to the world, and sold 600,000 copies of their new album in a week in America alone. Keith Richards they are not.

4. Mark Zuckerberg

Being the fastest computer coder on campus might not have been the most impressive boast – until recently. Now the Facebook founder is worth quite a few billion dollars, and has world leaders lining up to meet him. But, true to his roots, he recently confessed to wearing the same clothes every day.

5. EL James

Erika Leonard's writing career began with fan fiction for the Twilight series under the pen name Snowqueens Icedragon – it doesn't get much uncooler than that, but the work evolved into 50 Shades of Grey which, having now sold more copies than all the Harry Potter novels combined, is something of a triumph.

6. John Oliver

The specs, the suit, the sensible haircut, you might expect to meet a John Oliver type when seeking advice on whether to unlink your pension to the FTSE. But the faintly Liverpudlian comic is one of the most famous comics in the US, as the roving reporter type on Jon Stewart's Daily Show, and a significant player in the upcoming presidential election.

7. Lena Dunham

Writer, director, actress, her own neuroses have been laid bare in thinly veiled dramatic disguise – awkward sex and failings in the job market are among the many plots of her hit show Girls, which is about not much else than her own troublesome youth. "I had no friends, I worried a lot," she has said of her schooldays. "I was in this constant state of 'This is what I look like – f**k you!'" People know what she looks like now.

Take the quiz: How much of a geek are you...?

You have a virus on your computer at work. Do you:

a) Ring IT

b) Go home

c) Couldn't happen – you installed the latest anti-virus software twice that day.

At a car-boot sale, you see an original 1937 action comic, featuring the first appearance of Superman. Do you:

a) Snap it up instantly

b) Start haggling

c) Recognise it is a forgery, as Superman didn't appear until June 1938.

You have £25 to spend on your 10,000-point wood elf army. Do you buy:

a) A wood dragon

b) A mage

c) What is a wood elf?

Answer c,c,a? You might be the next Prime Minister...

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape