Canvassing in cyberspace

Sean Coughlan

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers offers politicians the first pointers of the Easter conference season.

In keeping with its carefully cultivated image as the party of the future, Labour has taken its campaign into cyberspace, launching its own general election Internet site - a glitzy multimedia effort that, along with speeches and policy statements, includes a special area for Labour's classroom candidates in school mock elections.

No longer are school elections to be worthy, desk-bound debates about the philosophies of the rival parties. A visit to Labour's schools election Internet site will equip its junior candidates with spin-doctor wisdom on "focusing the message," "knowing the voters" and "building a campaign team".

Under the latter heading, young Blairites are reminded of the dangers of relying on a narrow coterie of political allies: "The first thing to remember when you are building a campaign team is that you need a diverse group of people who can help you, not just a group of friends."

As well as encouraging such playground Mandelsons, Labour's online election material pushes hard on education as its favourite issue. "Education will be the passion of my government. Education will be chapter number one in our manifesto. It will be priority number one in government. It will be Bill number one in a Labour Queen's speech," Mr Blair is quoted as promising.

Although not as slick as Labour's online canvassing, both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats also have Internet sites, with pages of policies and details of their past achievements and plans for the future.

Eager not to be left behind by Labour's new frontiersmen, the Tory site has a picture of John Major urging voters to "enjoy surfing our pages".

The TES Internet service has launched its own online general election section, which will run for the duration of the campaign, providing direct links to the information being put on to the Internet about education by the competing parties.

There is also a collection of articles from The TES, putting the battle over education into context. As well as carrying the opinions of politicians and pundits, The TES Internet service is also inviting readers to send in their own responses to the election, hopefully taking up some of the educational issues arising in the course of the campaign.

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Sean Coughlan

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