Online election

25th May 2001 at 01:00
While the main political parties immerse themselves in claiming and shaming - the process of talking up their achievementspromises while slinging mud at the opposition - UK schools will be showing them how it should be done when they run their own campaigns and debates.

Online democracy for students will be playing a significant part in these events during the election campaign. There are numerous sites carrying election information, but two that offer something different are Youth Election from and the Online Junior Election from RM and the Parliamentary Education Unit. Both offer under-18s a chance to cast their vote, as well as information about the parliamentary process and the main political parties.

Youth Election offers young visitors the opportunity to vote for the main parties, take part in online debates with party members and contribute to the Kids UK Manifesto. The manifesto allows each child to register three ideas they would put into action if they were in power. The best of these will be published every day in the run-up to the election.

The site itself doesn't have that much in the way of explanations of the political process, but it does have "child-friendly" versions of manifestos of the main parties. The Tory manifesto is little more than a short essay featuring general party themes. At 218 words, the Labour manifesto is not so much child-friendly as abrupt, with education getting a measly 28 words.

Compare that to the Liberal Democrats, whose education section runs to almost 300 words and ranges from class sizes to adult literacy. It is equally dtailed on other issues, including civil rights, globalisation and social justice. The Green Party manifesto is also wide-ranging and detailed.

Plaid Cymru is the party that tries hardest to include issues that will be of interest to the site's target age group, such as free water and chill-out rooms in nightclubs, and the legalisation of cannabis for the over-18s.

While 300 words on an issue cannot be described as in-depth, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party offer enough information to provide a springboard for some informed classroom debates. The Monster Raving Loony Party may well get the biggest vote, though, with its pledge to introduce the 4Rs of reading, writing, rock and rave.

Primary children can take part in the Online Junior Election which will feature three parties: the Tidy Party, which promotes recycling; the Fit Party, which encourages exercise; and the Health Party, which pushes the balanced diet manifesto.

Schools need to register online before downloading teaching resources, which include worksheets, ballot papers, manifestos and logos for children to use to campaign for their party of choice. Election day will be June 14, and participating schools will count their own ballots before submitting the results to the Junior Election site. The winning party will then be expected to implement its policies for at least a day.

Junior Election is part of the Explore Parliament site, which also features information on the parliamentary process and an extremely useful glossary.


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