WITH election fever bursting out all over, politicians' minds should now be turning to how they harness the power of the Internet.

While all the major parties want to be seen to be a part of the online world, none have yet demonstrated any great ability to use the World Wide Web for election purposes.

Our counterparts in France seem to be taking the whole issue much more seriously with its National Assembly even considering a Bill to make cyber-elections legal.

This would mean people would be able to cast their votes online from home.

Over here, this year's General Election seems destined to consist of websites with political manifestos plus the chance to contact a handful of politicians.

The vast gulf between what politicians think the electorate want online and what they are actually offering was clearly demonstrated during a recent question and answer session at our own website.

Peter Mandelson was asked by a reader from Shildon how the Internet will be used in the election.

While enthusing that it would be "an Internet election for Labour" the only real online offerings were a chance for "giving publicity for our policies and answering voters' questions".

It would be unfair to single out Mr Mandelson for criticism - especially as he is one of the few MPs who encourages e-mail contact.

A quick glance at the list of members of parliament at the House of Commons official website shows how few North-East MPs even want this limited form of contact.

Even the website belonging to the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce, Patricia Hewitt currently displays a message saying it is "temporarily offline".

So if the turn-out for this election, and the local elections, becomes the usual turn-off, MPs perhaps need look no further than their nearest PC for a possible answer.

Published: Thursday, April 05