e-Petitions. Powerful or Pointless?

  WhiteTruckMan 20:46 23 Nov 2011

I've been considering for some time now whether to try launching a downing st. e-Petition. Some of you may even be able to guess what, but I wont go into that right now. What I would value though are peoples opinions on whether they are worth the effort. I have in mind all the excitement that came to nothing in the recent petition about european membership. As far as I can see, petitions dont commit the government to anything more than talking about something.

So is there any real point to e-Petitions? or are they merely a cynical political diversion for the masses, the online equivelent of the wailing wall?

  wiz-king 20:58 23 Nov 2011

Yes. The fact that they have to do something - if only to yatter on about it does make them stop and think.

  Aitchbee 21:48 23 Nov 2011

Recently there was a 'hoohaa' about taking photographs in shopping precincts.

Some of the social network sites highlighted this, and I think, because of the publicity on-line, big shops 'listened' to their customers.

WTM - I don't know what you are proposing, but if you put a good case forward, then you might get some support.Then again, you may not.

  Forum Editor 22:28 23 Nov 2011

You raise an interesting point.

On balance I think I would rather have e-petitions than not have them, if for no other reason than the fact that I know government Ministers look at them.

It's democracy in action,and although it's tempting to see e-petitions as a sop to the 'and another thing' person in many of us it's better than the alternative...which is waiting in line to pitch a grievance to your local MP at his/her constituency clinics, or writing a letter and sending it into the black holes that are Ministers' in trays.

  Belatucadrus 22:55 23 Nov 2011

I think they can be useful, but if you look at Quentin Willsons FairFuelUK petition, the government keeps moving the goalposts on how the topic qualifies for debate, at first he needed 100000, when he got that it changed to 100000 plus an MP to raise the topic. Apparently it was made clear to MPs that supporting this petition would be a bad idea, fortunately for democracy some of them refused to take the hint, hence the recent debate.

So be prepared for a lot of hard work if you want it to achieve anything. They're also going to increase the forced debate threshold to 150000, can you muster that kind of support ? Most of the ones I've signed thus far have resulted in a few mealy mouthed platitudes from the incumbent PM which boil down to

"Thanks for the interest but we're right and you're wrong so go away while we carry on regardless."

Nice in theory but they clearly listen only when they want to or when forced to and if forced will just increase the hight of the perimeter fence that keeps the electorate away from their ivory tower.

Bitter twisted old cynic moi ? I have yet to be proved wrong.

  morddwyd 07:24 24 Nov 2011

We've had them for some time in Scotland, with, I think, mixed results.

They do, at least, let the Government know some areas which are of concern to the electorate.

As has been suggested, it depends a bit on how arrogant the relevant politicians are.

Would a Westminster government have taken much notice of an e-petition on the Community Charge (Poll Tax)?

  carver 09:50 24 Nov 2011

Depends if the MPs think that petitions are just sent in by Zombies same as this MP thinks http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/24/healthministerzombies/

Why is it that once elected as an MP they seem to think they are no longer members of this society but are an elite above us simple folk.

  johndrew 10:10 24 Nov 2011

They should be a powerful tool in assisting our elected representatives to act in the interest of the electorate. Unfortunately there appears to be an element of elitism at Westminster - perhaps because they are privy to information held back from the public at large - and as a result e-petitions are not treated with the respect they should have.

Given that a substantial number of people must support each petition before it can even be considered and many who would support the action proposed either are unaware or not online, such actions should only be ignored at the peril of MPs.

I am aware that some e-petitions are frivolous but many are very serious and have a major impact on those living in the real world. Perhaps there should be a mandatory duty on those MPs who live in ivory towers, as some appear to do, to be forced to be employed and live as the vast majority in this country are. It may bring the career politician down to earth.

  spuds 13:33 24 Nov 2011

I personally regard e-petitions as a total waste of time and effort. When this was first instigated, it sounded like a very good idea in letting the government and its minister's know what was on the public's mind, and how things should be re-addressed in some areas. But as already been stated, the goalposts have been changed on how many people must submit to an e-petition before it is even considered, let alone anything being taken into consideration.

To me, this is another case of politics saying "we want to show interest, because we want to say we are doing something" and at the same time stating that "we don't really have the time, but look we offered?".

Perhaps looking at this from another point, the government have Select Committees and White Papers, that are suppose to have the countries interests to heart. Yet I wonder how many people know how this system works and what it really achieves. Any number of years ago, a number of people including myself were involved with concerns about the workings of the Local Government Ombudsman Services here in England. (We even had a website and organisation formed, which proved successful to like minded people). To those participants in the public sector who offered witness statements and the like, it turned out to be a bit of a farce. One point of that particular exercise was the the promise that the proceedings and further investigations would continue after a pending general election. This never happened, because the new committee and mainly the new chair-person "had other more important pressing issues to deal with, with very limited time and resources". Now there's honesty and democracy as a public right, for you?.

Going back to the original subject of e-petitions, I once became in one e-petition, that was in the news at the time, and it was proposed to go forward, because it met the rules of entitlement. We received later notification, that the issues had been rejected!.

  johndrew 13:50 24 Nov 2011

fourm member

'That really won't wash.'

I really am sorry that you have difficulty accepting that just because something is promulgated online everyone knows about it. Unfortunately your position and belief is much weakened by the fact that a fairly large number of people in the UK neither own PCs or have the ability to access information on this additionally makes it difficult for them to be aware of it. You may also like to consider those who do not use social networks even if they have an internet connection of some description.

If, perhaps, a list of all such actions were promulgated in the press, on radio and on television the number would be reduced. However, given that we are discussing e-petitions it would still be difficult for these individuals to vote in support.

  WhiteTruckMan 15:23 24 Nov 2011

I really am sitting on the fence on this. On the one hand I recognise that online opinion can be a significant driver of change, from tiananmen square to the so called arab spring( I have grave doubts as to the benefits of the latter, but thats an onion of a different flavour). But on the other, as Belatucadrus points out, the goalposts keep shifting.

I suppose that I am mindfull of an episode of yes, prime minister where a petition is presented to jim hacker. He is horrified, and instructs bernard to destroy it, saying that he never wants to see it again. Bernard replies that in that case it would be better if he simply filed it!

Is anyone aware of one of these e-Petitions that actually achieved anything in terms of influencing government policy rather than simply creating some newspaper headlines and generating additional hot air in parliament?


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