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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
TV bid to find UK's 'Poll Idol'
The Cheeky Girls
The Cheeky Girls were discovered on Popstars: The Rivals
ITV is launching a Pop Idol-style talent contest to find a member of the public to stand for Parliament.

Contestants on Vote for Me will take part in televised challenges, judged by an independent panel.

The winner will be chosen by a phone vote from a shortlist of 10 and encouraged to stand for Parliament in one of the UK's 659 constituencies.

The programme makers say the programme is a "serious attempt" to combat voter apathy.

'New political star'

Both the judging panel, which will be led by former ITV political editor John Sergeant, and the contestants will be free of political allegiances, they add.

If they can put the safeguards in, I think it is going to do a little bit of good
Martin Bell
Presenter Jonathan Maitland said the idea was to "find a new political star".

"We want people who have been interested in politics but haven't done anything about it until now to come forward and see if they've got what it takes to be an MP," he told BBC Radio 4's PM.

The programme was looking for "people who appeal to young voters," he added.

"One of the main reasons we are doing this programme is because the politicians themselves have said to us, 'you have got to do something to re-engage people, particularly young people, with the political process'".

'Charisma'

Everyone will be entitled to take part except people barred from standing for Parliament, such as prisoners and the under 21s.

But ITV will not be fund the winner's campaign and their eventual choice of constituency will be up to them.

Mr Maitland said the programme was looking for "credible and serious" people, who come across well on television and had "some kind of charisma".

Martin Bell, the former BBC journalist and independent MP for Tatton, said Vote for Me could increase public interest in democracy.

'Distorting' democracy?

But he said the makers would need to ensure it was not hijacked by special interest groups or existing parties.

"If they can put the safeguards in, I think it is going to do a little bit of good," he told PM.

He said the main parties should be "relaxed" about the programme.

And he said he did not think the television exposure lavished on the winner would "distort democracy, any more than democracy is already distorted by the huge sums of money thrown at it by the parties".

He did not rule out taking part himself, but added he may be "too old" to appeal to younger voters.

Auditions

Newspaper advertisements will be placed for contestants from next week and the programme will have a website.

The judges will travel around the UK holding auditions, but the programme makers insist the contest will have more depth than Pop Idol, with contestants to be questioned on their beliefs and judged on their TV performance.

The programme is expected to be broadcast early next year, with the contest reaching its climax before the expected date of the next general election, in May 2005.

In the 2001 general election, turnout was down to 59%, with only 39% of 18-34 year olds bothering to vote.

Ratings hit

Pop Idol and spin-off Popstars: The Rivals have been a ratings success - making stars of young singers like Gareth Gates, Will Young and The Cheeky Girls.

Ten million votes were received for 23-year-old Glaswegian Michelle McManus in the most recent contest in December, although there is nothing to prevent people voting more than once.

Pop Idol judge Simon Cowell, who recently said he wanted to interview politicians, will not be involved.

The programme is made by Mentorn, the company behind BBC One's Question Time and Channel 4's Unreported World.

The e-mail address for anyone interested in taking part is voteforme@mentorn.tv.




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