E-petitions, useless pish
In a move with potentially hilarious consequences, the government is moving ahead with plans to turn the most popular online petitions into parliamentary bills. The most popular petition on the government’s website, or those that reach around 100,000 signatures, will be introduced as private member’s bills to be debated in parliament, and possibly passed into law.
At first this sounds like a good idea – any increase in direct democracy is good, and it could potentially be a useful way to give important issues publicity. However, scratch beneath the surface and you can see that this is just another meaningless “look-honestly-we’re-not-evil” proposal from the tories.
All this means is that popular issues will be debated in parliament – there’s no requirement for the government to take into account public opinion beyond this. Before the Iraq war, huge demonstrations were held, with millions taking to the streets – far exceeding the government’s e-petiton threshold. They were ignored. Opinion polls show that the majority still oppose the war in Afghanistan – the troops are still there. The new proposals are just another way to hide the fact that our “democratic” system isn’t very democratic at all, and the same elites will continue to run things the way they want to. Even if MPs are forced into debating an issue they don’t like, it won’t take much to vote it down and ignore it.
The plans also don’t take into account the nature of the internet – if this goes ahead we can look forward to debates on the merits of Justin Bieber gigs in North Korea, or on if we should make Top Gear knobhead Jeremy Clarkson prime minister. The government has said that the petitions will be moderated for eligibility to counter jokes like this – but if the government is deciding what petitions get debated or not, isn’t that the exact same thing as not having a petition system at all?
The important thing to remember in all of this is that if e-petitions were really going to let people directly influence government, the government wouldn’t be introducing it. Just like letting the public decide “which cuts they want” on Facebook (How about none?), this is an empty gesture to make it look like the government cares what we think.