ITV launched a national talent contest to find a future MP yesterday, shrugging off accusations that the Pop Idol-inspired show was demeaning politics and could even result in Michael Howard, the Tory party leader, losing his seat.
Vote For Me will copy the successful format of so-called reality television shows such as Fame Academy and Pop Idol, but will offer contestants the chance of a future at Westminster rather than in pop music.
John Sargeant, the former BBC political correspondent, will be on the panel of judges - the producers are also approaching Martha Lane Fox, the founder of Lastminute.com, and Chris Martin, of Coldplay - who will select 10 finalists from the public. Each contestant will have to produce a manifesto and "audition" in front of the panel.The finalists will then be put through a series of challenges such as a mock hustings, knocking on the doors of potential voters and being questioned by a political interviewer.
Viewers will be asked to vote off contestants at the end of each programme, leaving a winner who will stand as a prospective independent MP in the next General Election.
Advertisements for the contest will be in newspapers next week. As well as enforcing the existing ban on criminals, bishops and minors from becoming MPs, ITV will also try to prevent anyone with affiliations to a political party from getting into the final. Producers are keen to find candidates with a broad appeal to voters rather than single-issue campaigners.
Steve Anderson, ITV's controller of current affairs, said the programme was a serious attempt to address the "crisis" in political apathy, particularly among the young. Speaking at the Rose d'Or television festival, which has moved this year from Montreux to Lucerne, he said he had written to the political parties telling them about the programme.
He said that the winner would be left to decide which constituency he or she fought and that it could be one with a high-profile sitting MP.
In the last General Election, voter turnout fell to 59 per cent, the lowest since 1918, and only 39 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds bothered to vote.
By contrast, 8.7 million people voted in the Pop Idol final between Gareth Gates and Will Young in 2002.
However, the idea of reducing the political process to a popularity contest at the same time as giving enormous television publicity to a single independent candidate has already met with criticism.
Senior figures within the Conservative Party are understood to be deeply concerned that the winner would stand against their leader, Michael Howard, because his 5,907 majority in Folkestone and Hythe is significantly smaller to that of either Tony Blair or Charles Kennedy.
Their fears have been echoed by Sir Bernard Ingham, Lady Thatcher's former spokesman, who said it was not difficult to work out where the winner would stand "if they wanted maximum drama". He dismissed the show as "cheap entertainment" and "a disgrace" and called on the Electoral Commission to stop it going ahead.
Mr Anderson said ITV was "prepared for a row" but had taken legal advice on how to proceed. As a result, it will not provide any funding towards the winner's election campaign.
Mr Anderson said ITV would broadcast the show over one week early next year, well in advance of any proposed May election. It would be broadcast after the evening news, clashing with Newsnight on BBC2.
Like other broadcasters, ITV is legally obliged not to give any General Election candidate undue prominence during the campaign. However that rule does not apply to the press, which would be free to run as much as it liked about the winner's campaign.
Mr Anderson said the show was "enriching" democracy rather than demeaning it. "We know about the power of television and, here, we're trying to use it for something good and worthwhile."
Vote For Me's presenter, Jonathan Maitland, said the intention was to make the show not only entertaining, but "serious and credible".
The Electoral Commission said the show would not infringe electoral law so long as it maintained impartiality and did not give undue prominence to a particular candidate during the election. Prospective participants can call the Vote For Me hotline on 0141 204 6626 or e-mail [email protected]
Source: The Telegraph
There are no comments to display.