THE Number 10 petition website introduced by the previous British government as a means of keeping a finger on the pulse of public opinion was not a success. It was used quite effectively by a campaigners against road-pricing in the Midlands but in the end the petitions became trivialised. Now the coalition government is planning a new approach to consultation with the general public which will still be based on e-petitions but will call for proposals that could result in parliamentary legislation after departmental vetting and adoption by an MP as a private Bill. For a proposal to be treated in this way it would require at least 100'000 signatures of registered voters.
The supporters of this project claim that it represents a more efficient and mature way for the public to engage with government and parliament. A different view would be that it represents a piece of window dressing with little substance behind it and that it will mislead a lot of people into thinking that they can have a direct line to the government. In fact, the chances of seeing any outcome at the end of a tortuous process will be very small. With cracks already appearing in several of the government's priority policies it is surprising that David Cameron allows fringe proposals such as e-petitions and a national measurement of happiness to take his ministers' and civil servants' times.