It is brilliant to see the UK government opening up the potential for greater use of the Internet in shaping policy agendas. Apparently, the coalition government plans to allow online petitions to raise issues that might be debated in parliament. This is a very responsible approach to enabling the public to express concerns and, in cases where concern is widespread, see the issues debated in parliament.
This initiative has already led to concerns being raised over ‘frivolous’ petitions and the gaming of this system by organized pressure groups. This ignores the degree that bad ideas are raised, from time to time, by parliamentarians, and dismisses the ability of parliament to assess the merits of a petition drive. This should be an all party initiative given the role that the Labour Party played in introducing e-Petitions in the UK, but in opposition, the Labour Party might not follow through on this innovation.
Of course, a valid concern is over the potential for a large segment of the public to support measures that are unwise. For example, many referenda supported in California have been judged unconstitutional by the courts. However, this is not a referendum, but only an opportunity to put an issue on the table. What better way is there for politicians to explain and debate issues of concern to the public. They need not be tied by a petition to discuss the issue.
Hopefully, the government will sense public support for this initiative so that it moves ahead as soon as practical.
For press coverage, see:
eWeek Government Moves Towards Bills By Crowdsourcing, December 28, 2010 by Eric Doyle