Ed Miliband: The geek in politics

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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...

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