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Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 15:30 GMT

Web pokes fun at politics

By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

If you have ever wanted to teach the Prime Minister a few lessons, shoot virtual political leaders or choose a fantasy cabinet, then the internet can help.

Satirical and comedy websites are springing up to amuse those getting jaded by the extensive election coverage.

Though sometimes crude, the sites offer an alternative to the seriousness of the extensive sites set up by the main political parties.

One even lets people work out who they should be voting for if they are not sure themselves.

Comedy not campaigns

There is no doubt that the internet will be important to the 2001 election. All the political parties have realised that the net is a great way to do some virtual campaigning.

But there are many other websites that deal with the election in a more light-hearted manner.

One of the most popular during the opening weeks of the election has been amielectableornot? that lets visitors rate people according to a sliding scale of electability.

Pictures of many real politicians are on the site, but images of animals, cartoons and fictional characters are winning more votes. Homer Simpson was briefly top candidate for Prime Minister.

Mike Dicks from Bomb Productions, which created the site, said fans of Kylie Minogue and Billy Bragg have mounted campaigns to get their favourites elected to the fantasy cabinet. "The trend so far, and some would say is typical of the British electorate, is that pictures of cats, dogs and naked ladies seem to be the consistently popular choices," he said.

Satire site Spinon, which is also taking a sideways look at the election, has created some interactive games that have an election theme. Surfers can choose from such challenges as "Stay To the Right of Jack Straw" and "Battlebus 2001".

This latter game outfits the campaigning coaches with weapons such as Paddy's Pants and the Prescott Punisher, and pits them against each other in a last man standing type explosion-fest.

Digital doubles

Online Games has gone a bit further with its election game. The site has created virtual versions of the leaders of the three main political parties.

Players take on the guise of one of the leaders and try to kill off the other two in a Death Match type shoot-out modelled on the Unreal Tournament game system. So far players taking on the digital double of Tony Blair are out-fragging the opposition leaders.

The My Little Tony website was established earlier this year, but the election is boosting visitors. The site lets people train and teach a centaur-like version of the Prime Minister equipped with AI-based software that is used to generate plausible responses.

The Fantasy 2001 website set up by the New Statesman helps people work out who they should be voting for. It poses 10 questions and then recommends a party based on responses.

Those that search the web for sites run by politicians could be surprised when they find out about the other William Hagues and John Prescotts.

The man who owns WilliamHague.com is actually a naturist and has a disclaimer on his site warning people that he is not the Conservative Party leader.

The domain TonyBlair.com is owned by an American apparently called Anthony Blaah but currently the site is dead.

Charleskennedy.com is currently up for sale. A website exists for John Prescott but it is for the North Carolina based estate agent rather than the government minister.



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