Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Signed and Delivered: Online Petitions Could Be Just the Way to Revitalise Our Democracy, Writes Becky Hogge

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Signed and Delivered: Online Petitions Could Be Just the Way to Revitalise Our Democracy, Writes Becky Hogge

Article excerpt

It has been nearly a year since 1.8 million people signed an e-petition opposing the government's plan to ease traffic congestion in the UK by introducing a road-pricing policy. The incident might be the one time No 10's experiment with online petitioning poked its head above the specialist press, but the road-pricing petition was by no means the only one. Since the launch of the Prime Minister's petition website, tens of thousands of e-petitions have been started, with roughly four million unique email addresses registered to sign them.

Though not all these emails can be expected to belong to UK citizens (for such is the pseudonymous nature of the internet), the figures still suggest that a significant proportion of the UK population has used the site to engage directly with the PM.

The online experiment raised a number of questions, chief of which is: "What difference do petitions make?" Although the road-pricing petition might have led to a ministerial U-turn on the issue in autumn, the grass-roots uprising was not the clear shot to the head such a zombie policy needed: a 15 January Policy Exchange report on congestion resurrected the proposal, to whoops of delight from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. It's not clear if the smaller petitions caused that much soul-searching at No 10, either. My experience was that the responses were, at best, a condescending restatement of the policy I was petitioning against. …

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