Government e-petitions are, I strongly suspect, mainly giving a voice to rabid right-wingers and cretinous Daily Mail/Torygraph readers – almost a quarter of a million voting in favour of stripping convicted London rioters of their benefits being a classic example (and why only London?). Just how, exactly, will that do anything but render people homeless and/or drive more people into a life of crime? Many far more worthy causes are being promoted via a wide range of “unofficial” petitions, and I’m at a loss to know exactly what this will accomplish.
Government e-petitions are less than perfect, but they do, at least, hold out the prospect of getting the message in front of MPs, which third-party petitions might very well not do. However, getting the requisite 100,000 votes, which brings the e-petition to the attention of the Commons Backbench Business Committee, will not get the issue in front of the government, all it gets you is a small chunk of back-bench time (not government time), after which it may well sink without trace. Conversely, it may inspire a Private Members’ Bill, or be taken on board by government or by the opposition; who knows? That the Hillsborough petition appears to have achieved something, though, is probably little more than a PR exercise – window-dressing to try to give this bunch of scumbags some semblance of humanity.
It’s been suggested, in the Guardian’s comments, that an e-petition calling for Atos staff to be jailed would be a good idea, which just plain stupid. One calling for Atos’ involvement in disability benefits assessments to be terminated forthwith, and replaced with the doctor-led system it usurped, would be far more sensible (see below). Probably attract more support too. Does such an official e-petition exist? Anyone know? (There are 143 pages of similar petitions – no way I’m reading through that lot.)
For me, though, by far the biggest problem is that endless third-party e-petitions are circulating online, especially on Twitter, which, for some reason avoid actually using the government system, so what, exactly, is the point? Even if, at the end of the day, results are collated and sent to No. 10, they’ll likely be ignored because they have bypassed the officially-approved system.
So, from now on I intend to sign no more online petitions that are not in the appropriate government format, because there is little or no point to third-party petitions – the machinery exists for putting issues in front of back-benchers, at least, so, less than perfect though the system undoubtedly is, it’s the best we currently have – let’s use the damn thing!
Go here http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/
Note for the hard of thinking – I hold no brief for this dishonest, unmandated, government, but I believe using the system provided to put issues in front of MPs is the best option we have. To that end I have submitted an e-petition which, pending approval, will say:-
We call upon the government to compel Atos Healthcare to replace its current tick-box disability assessment system with one in which disabled claimants are properly assessed by qualified doctors as, indeed, was the case before Atos were appointed. The current system is demonstrably unfair and arbitrary.
If it’s approved, which can take a week, I’ll post it both in my blog and on Twitter. My original thought – to terminate the Atos contract – would, I’m sure, have sunk without trace. This wording might, at least, have a chance. And hey, it’s not libellous!
Update, October 25: To nobody’s surprise, the petition was rejected. See this post, which might well explain why so many disability-related e-petitions avoid the government system.