On 4th June a debate took place in Westminster Hall following a petition (200888) which gained 109,554 signatures; a debate which has. to my knowledge, been ignored by the media; which begs the question how important was it, bearing in mind our media is supposed to report news of public interest (but I digress).
First, a little background: according to this article there is a small green bag in the House of Commons that hangs hidden on the back of the Speaker’s chair with a sign attached. It reads: “Do not touch”. Into this bag disappear all the petitions that pass through parliament.It is hard to see this bag as anything other than a metaphor for the triviality with which politicians treat petitions and civic engagement in general. This is nothing new. Petitioning, a practice from medieval times, was used by the working class in the 19th century to demand the vote in their millions; yet the government of the time was quick to reject the multiple petitions they presented……But Directgov is rarely more than a farce – and a destructive one at that. Almost half of petition requests submitted to the site by the public are rejected (link now inoperative) before they reach publication stage. When it promises that “if you collect more than 100,000 signatures, your e-petition could be debated in the House of Commons”, few realise the weight of significance behind the word “could”. Many petitions exceed this threshold and lead to no debate. In reality, they are passed to the backbench where, in the absence of an MP with a reason to champion the cause, they suffer death by committee. Of course, if you happen to move in the same social circles as an MP, you could just bypass the task of convincing 100,000 people a cause is right and convince just the one.