By Ray Fleming

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.