Michael Caine enters political arena

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LONDON -- Michael Caine, the movie actor loved by generations of Britons for his roles in cult classics such as "The Italian Job" and "Get Carter," put in a different kind of performance on Thursday when he waded into British politics.

Caine made a surprise appearance at a campaign event staged by the opposition Conservatives, who are seeking to unseat the ruling Labour Party in an election on May 6, to present their plan for a "national citizen service" for 16-year-olds.

"You may think to yourself 'what the hell is he doing here?' " Caine said as he stepped onto the podium with Conservative leader David Cameron, who will be the next prime minister if the party wins.

"I'm here because I'm a representative of all those youngsters that have been forgotten in this country," said Caine, 77, who rose from the tough London area of Elephant and Castle to glory in Hollywood, where he has won two Oscars.

The Conservative proposal is an eight-week program aimed at bringing together teenagers from different backgrounds, setting them sporting challenges to foster self-discipline and team work, and encouraging them to get involved in community work.

Cameron said this would not be compulsory but the ambition was for all British 16-year-olds to take part eventually.

Caine's presence by his side gave Cameron a golden opportunity to quote from "The Italian Job," the 1969 heist movie involving a mad fleet of Minis that has proved enduringly popular with British audiences down the years.

"As an idea, I hope it does more than just blow the bloody doors off," Cameron said of his citizen service plan, quoting one of Caine's most famous lines from the film.

Caine won his Oscars for the Woody Allen film "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "The Cider House Rules" by Lasse Hallstrom.

The star's endorsement immediately grabbed media attention, with photographers and cameramen zeroing in on him as he listened to presentations from youths who have taken part in pilot citizen service programs. The youths went ignored.

Despite the flurry of excitement generated by Caine's presence, there were some uncomfortable moments for the Conservatives.

Caine's opening gambit was that he shuddered at the sound of the words "national service" because that was the name of the now defunct compulsory military service which he had to do as a young man and which he "hated."

"When I first heard about this the only thing I heard was 'national service' and I thought 'Oh my God, they're bringing it back,'" Caine said.

"I did it myself, it wasn't very good," he said, although he did add that there should be something to replace it.
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