NEXT week Ken Livingstone's congestion charge area in central London will be doubled to include Kensington and Chelsea. If London's mayor had invited residents in the area to use the internet to express their opinion of this extension it would probably have received an emphatic No thanks. The Transport Minister, Douglas Alexander, recently gave citizens an opportunity to respond by means of an online petition to his proposal for an experiment in road use charging by means of satellite. To date 1.3 million people have signed a petition criticising and rejecting Mr Alexander's idea and more than two million signatures are expected by the time the site closes next week.
It has been reported that a senior minister has said, Whoever came up with this idea must be a prat. But others think that it is an interesting exercise in people's democracy that might well, with careful development, form a part of Labour's professed wish to devolve choice in public services to the individual. Mr Alexander has said that the petitioners have to be listened to and answered, particularly since he believes that many of them have signed the petition without fully understanding his intentions, and he quite reasonably says that he wants to run the experimental scheme to see whether or not it would work on a larger scale. As the public shows an increasing disinclination to turn out to vote at elections it must be right to see how their views can be solicited in other ways.