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141008epetitions

“e-petitions are an easy, personal way for you to influence government and Parliament in the UK. You can create an e-petition about anything that the government is responsible for and if it gets at least 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in the House of Commons. You can find more information about how the House of Commons deals with e-petitions on the Backbench Business Committee website

That was a lie, wasn’t it?

How many e-petitions have been created since the site went up on August 4, 2011? How many of those have actually resulted in a House of Commons debate, let alone a change of government policy? Barring the WOW Petition debate, it’s hard to think of any. The debate on WOW’s forerunner, Pat’s Petition, only took place because Labour used one of its Opposition Day debates to get the issue aired.

According to this Guardian report, there were more than 1,000 visits a minute on the day the site went up – equivalent to more than 1.5 million visits a day. The site overloaded and went down in a matter of hours.

Would you like to know how many visits it gets now? At the time of writing, the top 12 petitions had received 189 signatures in the previous hour. The lowest-performing of those had just eight.

If those were the only petitions receiving signatures, then the average has dropped from 1,000 per minute to just three. Let’s be charitable and assume some other petitions have been signed. Let’s put it at five.

Why the tail-off?

Well, it’s hard to believe the spiel about influencing government and Parliament when a petition gathers enough signatures, wins a debate in the House of Commons, the vote goes the way the petitioners wanted… and then nothing happens. Nothing at all.

That’s what happened at the WOW debate. Vox Political ran a live blog on the day so you can read what happened for yourself. The motion was for a cumulative impact assessment into the effects on claimants of the Coalition government’s benefit ‘reforms’, and it was carried. Experts have explained to the government that such an assessment is well within their capabilities, but the government has denied these claims, despite producing no evidence itself.

Is it any wonder that people have lost faith in this system?

E-petitions were supposed to be a way for the public to influence Parliament.

Instead, it seems, they are a way for the government to sideline anyone who has a legitimate complaint about political decisions.

Alternatively, you might think this view is mistaken – so guess what? We’ll have another poll.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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