OPINION: Should the winner take it all?

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

Thanks to television we are all very comfortable with the idea of telephone voting on a range of programmes - housemates to be evicted from Big Brother, buildings to be saved in Restoration, books to be celebrated in The Big Read. 2004 has even kicked off with talk of a politician version of Pop Idol to find the next Tony Blair by ringing in after a peak-time beauty parade.

And after that? Well, how about using the same method to pick our favourite charity? Hopefuls can enter a series of regional heats - with a celeb to endorse each one - and then there can be a grand finale with the public ringing in to decide which organisation will get the pot of gold and the title Charity of the Year. No more dull old This Week's Good Cause on Radio 4, but a big, brash competition - Aids or homelessness, mental health or sick children, prisoners or pets? Come on down. The people make the choices and the winner takes it all.

I would copyright the idea, but I'm sure someone, somewhere is working on it as I write. And anyway, we half do it already with newspaper editors picking their charity of the year at Christmas, giving the anointed one acres of coverage and then readers coughing up. It's one small step from the editor picking all of us to get in on the act.

There are plus points. Research shows that it is the 16-24 age group that is least likely to get involved with a charity, yet they are the most avid viewers of Pop Idol and Big Brother. But is that enough to convince many of us to opt into an emotionally manipulative gladiatorial contest - precisely the sort of public set-to we all currently try to avoid?

I'm not sure. Part of me feels it would be more honest and more immediate.

It might even displace pampered pets at the top of the tree with suffering people. Now, that would be a result.

But another part recoils in horror at the sheer ghastliness of it. Perhaps it's because I'm not the target audience. Or I think I know better.

The jury, then, is out. But remember you read about the idea here first.

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