Government online petitions: why ask if you don’t listen, Gordon?

When it was unveiled by MySociety in November 2006, the e-petitions system on the 10 Downing Street website promised a new interactive era of communication between Government and the people. In practice, however, talking to the Prime Minister and friends online is more like having a conversation with a parrot.

The Government’s responses to e-petitions are mostly verbatim echoes of the very positions the signatories were trying to influence. As far as I can tell, no policy has so far been changed as a result of an e-petition. Presumably their hope is that sufficient repetition will win round protesters.

This arrogant “Government knows best” approach makes the whole idea of petitions seem like a pointless exercise. Why bother having a system for people to express their views if you have no intention of taking them into account? Perhaps it’s so the Government can claim it’s “listening to the people”. However soliciting public opinion and then ignoring it does not a consultation make. Why can’t they simply explain the reasons for not taking the action requested by each rejected petition? At least then the public would feel like its voice was being heard.

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