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Three Months of Britain's e-Petition System

samzenpus posted more than 7 years ago | from the I-wish-to-register-a-complaint dept.

The Internet 183

eldavojohn writes "The idea seems simple. Provide feedback for your government via the internet. If enough people sign a petition, address it. That was the idea when an e-Petition site was launched in Nov 06 for Prime Minister Tony Blair. The BBC is reporting on the million or so petitions that the PM has received since the site went live. While most petitions are rejected or ignored, they have a top ten with one petition having 600,000 signers. Is this a valid way to provide feedback to the government or merely an exercise in keeping the populace happy?"

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it's a homonym (2, Funny)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#17837936)

The idea seems simple. Provide feedback for your government via the internet. If enough people sign a petition, address it. That was the idea when an e-Petition site was launched in Nov 06 for Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Well, online wine delivery never really took off in the States, I hope the Brits have better luck.

Validity? (5, Insightful)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 7 years ago | (#17837940)

Any way one can provide feedback to their government is a valid one. As long as you demonstrate constructive criticism in your method, anything is better than nothing.

The better question is whether the government will take the feedback seriously at all, or if this is like the proverbial comments box that feeds into the building's waste chute.

Re:Validity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17837990)

An even better question is whether or not the government will use this as a way to weed out political dissidents. Now let me grab my special hat.

Re:Validity? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17837998)

There were more than 600,000 people protesting in Britain at the start of the Iraq war.
It went ahead anyway.

Re:Validity? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838224)

Blockquoth the AC:

There were more than 600,000 people protesting in Britain at the start of the Iraq war. It went ahead anyway.

That's true, but ignoring a couple of million protesters has effectively brought down Tony Blair and neutered the New Labour government. I can't think of a single high-profile, high-impact change they've got through since then.

The nastiest thing in the works is probably the whole ID cards and National Identity Register policy, for which the introductory legislation has already passed (though only after being rammed through with all the power the government could muster). I nevertheless predict with confidence that this will policy will die before it becomes mainstream, and the framework will be quietly "forgotten" by the next election. Over-hyped arguments about fighting terrorism and pleas to trust the government just ain't what they used to be, and I rather suspect that once the current political fad of believing the world is about to end because of environmental catastrophes has passed, I think privacy and personal freedom will be the Next Big Political Hot Potato.

On which note, it's interesting that by far the most-signed petition on the site objects to the introduction of vehicle tracking and road pricing measures. Many in government, including quite a few of my local councillors as well as the big central government players, seem to think this is inevitable. I rather suspect that it will be shot down on a similar basis to ID cards: it's a not-so-stealth tax, and it's a gross invasion of privacy. It's also overcomplicated when a much simpler alternative already exists via petrol tax, which could achieve much of the same end result. And of course, it's the answer to a problem that has only been created through a combination of poor government strategy and naive business management. The correct answers don't even seem to occur to them: not planning such that much of the population doesn't work locally; providing effective public transport alternatives rather than unreliable, overpriced, and generally less pleasant "services"; getting heavy freight off the roads and onto the alternative networks as much as possible; setting higher basic driving standards to reduce the number of incompetent/inconsiderate drivers who cause a disproportionate amount of congestion; providing serious facilities for cyclists rather than half-assed cycle lanes that do more harm than good, and encouraging employers to provide basics like secure cycle storage and showers at the office; management realising that flexible working hours as a minimum and often telecommuting are now both possible and indeed desirable arrangements for many workplaces; and so on, and so on.

Of course, whether any e-petitions like this will make the slightest difference to government policy remains to be seen. But if opposing a flawed and abusive policy to address the wrong underlying problem can get 600,000 names behind it within a couple of months, put me down as number 600,001; it's got to be worth a try, and even if the current government don't care, it could raise the profile of the issue come election time and get a commitment from other parties to oppose it.

Re:Validity? (4, Insightful)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838706)

One of the reasons for a government is that what best ofr you isn't neccesarily best for everyone. On the same note, what is best for everyone might not be whats best for the country. And even more easily seen is that just because something is popular doesn't mean it is the best for anything.

I'm not saying that anything you describe is good or bad. It is just that governments do things against the populous for reasons we don't like. A good case might be distribution of wealth. Some people might thinkit is a good idea to take all the money from the rich and spread it around to everyone equaly. And when you realize that means you would recieve several thousand dollars it might even be popular too. But we know that if anything like that happened, it would likley ruin the econemy, cause massive inflation and stop the incentives for anyone to make more then they currently are (if it gets taken and given away to someone who made less).

The points you brought out don't seem like anything I would like to happen here but i think we are on the same track. I guess the system might be a good way to let the government make a solid case for doing something that isn't popular and they will probably throw the dog abone every once in a while too. I think it is definatly a bad ordeal if your government takes an opinion poll before take a stance on something. Which might be the end run effect of this petition system were they see how many people are going to be pissed before doing something. This is something that got america in the shape it is in.

Re:Validity? (2, Insightful)

DavidShor (928926) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839380)

Controlling road usage with a petrol tax is like conducting surgery with a sludge hammer.

In order to manage traffic, prices would need to be algorithmically changed several times a day depending on how much road capacity exists in an area. Otherwise you will have large areas of road with excess capacity being held up by crowded bottlenecks.

Re:Validity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840812)

A) What's a sludge hammer?

B) Taxing fuel doesn't SPECIFICALLY control road usage, but it does control vehicle usage in general, it also has the (extremely beneficial) side-effect of promoting the sale of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Add to that the potent revenue-raising effect and it's a triple win.

We hear a lot of nonsense about transferring freight to railways, but the commercial logic has been the reverse for over 50 years now. Trains and railways are EXTREMELY expensive and inflexible, the only people who believe otherwise are the same clowns who think that rail should be publically subsidised and that public money grows on fucking trees.

Re:Validity? (1)

gallondr00nk (868673) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839540)

"On which note, it's interesting that by far the most-signed petition on the site objects to the introduction of vehicle tracking and road pricing measures. Many in government, including quite a few of my local councillors as well as the big central government players, seem to think this is inevitable. I rather suspect that it will be shot down on a similar basis to ID cards: it's a not-so-stealth tax, and it's a gross invasion of privacy"

I'm afraid I can't share your optimism. Looking at the longer term, I would imagine road pricing is being introduced to phase in a new stream of government income. Remember that in 40 or 50 years time we'll (most likely) be using an alternative fuel source, rendering the "minimising environmental impact" punitive petrol tax argument irrelevant. Without high (and flexible in times of election) taxation on private transport, the government won't have the carrot-and-stick approach to woo motorists into voting for them. Knowing the UK though, we'll end up paying high taxes in all areas.

Re:Validity? (1)

AndyboyH (837116) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840490)

The best thing about petrol tax compared to road pricing as well is that it actually is relevant to the car you drive and how economical that car is. A gas guzzler will consume more petrol per mile and thus be taxed higher than an economical runabout or hybrid. There's simply no need for jeeps and land rovers in city areas.

Admittedly petrol tax won't change congestion, but that's a different kettle of fish. Living near one of the most poorly designed roads (the two lane A1 motorway nr Newcastle) that NEEDS widening for both safety and flow of traffic, it's frustrating yes, but I still think congestion is a lesser evil than road pricing.

Re:Validity? (1)

GerryHattrick (1037764) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840582)

Agreed to this, but for satellite road pricing, check whether it hasn't already been secretly committed-to in Brussels. That would likely have been part of the 'carbon nonsense' package. OT, my contribution to the fight against the 'global warming' chimera is eagerly to burn all my rubbish (that's 'carbon neutral', at least in the longer term), and to make the bonfires as smoky as possible - well, soot on the neighbour's washing is carbon trapped within Gaia, not naughty carbon dioxide that trees live on.

Re:Validity? (2, Insightful)

rm999 (775449) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838014)

Good point, feedback is always a good thing; I guess the important question is whether this is the correct way of doing it. Politicians are very busy, and don't like their time being wasted. If the system is not taken seriously, like a lot of other online petition sites, it will lose effectiveness and just waste time.

If this does take off, and becomes the main way for the people to bring up complaints, it will give more voice to people who are tech savvy - not exactly the ideal in a democratic republic (or whatever Britain is).

I like the idea though. I wish more American politicians embraced something like this.

Re:Validity? (3, Insightful)

PaulBu (473180) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838284)

... it will give more voice to people who are tech savvy - not exactly the ideal in a democratic republic (or whatever Britain is).

And why would you say that? I guess we would both agree that in our time it is, in some sense, better when people going to polls are literate (as in, able to actually read something about an issue) -- not that I would advocate taking the right to vote from illiterate people, that would be wrong.

The same slight bias towards "tech--" (and probably something else) -- savvy individuals might be healthy as well.

Paul B.

P.S. Yes, I do like the idea too!

Re:Validity? (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838770)

The problem with literate people voting is freedom of speech. And that problem is that there is some many false things writen about some isues, that even the informed person can be just as uninformed as the illiterate one.

And when you start throwing political literature in the mix, you end up with someone who is informed voting for someone who doesn't actualy exist. In the end, not knowing a thing and knowing the wrong things will be about the same.

Re:Validity? (1)

kcbrown (7426) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838294)

Good point, feedback is always a good thing;

Feedback is a good thing when it makes a difference. That is, when it's heeded.

Feedback is a bad thing when it's ignored, because it becomes a waste of time and resources and gives the population a false sense of accomplishment -- it makes them believe that their voice is important when it obviously isn't.

In this case, I think it's overwhelmingly likely that the latter option is what's actually happening.

Governments no longer listen to the people. They listen almost exclusively to corporations.

Re:Validity? (2, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838304)

If the petitions are narrow & specific, then I agree this might be a useful tool.

But more often, you got petitions like "cure world hunger" or some other broad/vague wording which has zero chance of being feasible... but what politician is going to come out against curing world hunger?

FTFA, it seems like the Brits have relatively specific petitions, which is a good thing. OTOH, how many successful petitions will ever advocate higher taxes or anything that will require sacrifice?

Re:Validity? (1)

FreakyLefty (803946) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840726)

FTFA, it seems like the Brits have relatively specific petitions, which is a good thing. OTOH, how many successful petitions will ever advocate higher taxes or anything that will require sacrifice?


Last time I had a poke through the petitions there were half a dozen drug-related ones. Five of them we in favour of relaxing drug laws, ranging from "controlled trials in tolerance areas" all the way to "decriminalise all drugs". On the other side, a single petition with a single signature, saying "pretty please, keep the drugs laws the way they are." It's a pretty unique stance :-)

My personal favourite is still this one [pm.gov.uk] though. Childish, me?

Re:Validity? (1)

mpe (36238) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840362)

I guess the important question is whether this is the correct way of doing it. Politicians are very busy, and don't like their time being wasted.

Problem is that politicians (especially those who have been in office too long) may have a rather warped view of what "time wasting" means compared with the general public. e.g. not regarding being wined and dined by lobbiests as being a time wasting activity...

Not necessarily (2, Interesting)

Geof (153857) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838278)

Any way one can provide feedback to their government is a valid one.

It really depends who the "one" is. If the mechanism for feedback is open to some but not to others, then it can actually decrease democracy. Lobbying can be criticized on these grounds, because it buys disproportionate influence for some. So can government consultations that exclude important groups.

In Canada, for example [thehilltimes.ca], the minister responsible for copyright reform is meeting frequently with CRIA (effectively the Canadian branch of the RIAA), but not with Canadian artists. A similar effect can be achieved more subtly. The use of particular technologies (e.g. requirements for Internet Explorer, or even for Internet access where not all people have it) or procedures (e.g. requirements to comment in person in a different city during working hours), or the restriction of comment to certain groups, can do more harm than good.

Mind you, I'm only criticizing your assertion, not your conclusion. The British effort sounds like a good thing, though I think you're right to be skeptical about the response of government.

Re:Not necessarily (1)

mpe (36238) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840434)

In Canada, for example, the minister responsible for copyright reform is meeting frequently with CRIA (effectively the Canadian branch of the RIAA), but not with Canadian artists.

You'd first need to put together a representative sample. Also ommited is any representation of readers, viewers and listeners.
Of course historically publishers have always been the strongest lobbiests for making and changing copyright laws.

This is a bad Idea (2, Interesting)

TheSloth2001ca (893282) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838452)

Here in Canada was had a Politician recommend a similar system...

"When former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day ran for Prime Minister of Canada, he proposed a mechanism to call for a referendum. A petition on any particular subject which gathered at least 350,000 signatures of voting age citizens ("3% of the electors") would automatically trigger a national referendum.

Mercer's "rant" asked viewers to log on to the 22 Minutes website, and sign an online petition asking the party leader to change his name to Doris Day (after the singer/actress). Producers claim to have obtained in excess of 1,200,000 online votes."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Hour_Has_22_Minu tes#Stockwell.2FDoris_petition [wikipedia.org]

Re:This is a bad Idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17838596)

Mercer's "rant" asked viewers to log on to the 22 Minutes website, and sign an online petition asking the party leader to change his name to Doris Day (after the singer/actress).

Thanks for clarifying that. For a second there I was confused, because I thought you meant the Doris Day that plays for the New York Yankees.

Re:Validity? (1)

Walt Dismal (534799) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839592)

In related news, 50,000 petitioners for more honest government, whose names begin with letters from A through F, were mysteriously killed by men in unmarked vans. Petitioners with names from G through L are advised to go into hiding right quick, and ones with names from M through Z are advised to move to New Zealand while there's still time. Citizens of the US are advised to kiss their asses goodbye and forget about reform. It's too late.

Re:Validity? (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840532)

Given that the whole idea of a modern democracy is to do whatever you want regardless of public opinion, this is just another piece of table dressing. Most of the UK was against backing the US war against Iraq - there were huge demonstrations here. Our wishes were ignored. You seriously think a fucking website is going to make any difference? Get a grip.

The short answer: (2)

Fyre2012 (762907) | more than 7 years ago | (#17837944)

Yes

Is this a valid way to provide feedback to the government or merely an exercise in keeping the populace happy?
Since when is having a happy populace providing feedback to encourage positive change in our governments a bad thing?

Re:The short answer: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840630)

Because when you put it on the internet, it makes it easier to fake. Now people stop going outside and talking to their neighbors, which is exactly what pen-and-paper petitions are good for. Should I trust a government website to tell me what other citizens think about the government? It's a great position for the government to be in, basically posting their own poll numbers (!)

Re:The short answer: (1)

PinkyDead (862370) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840660)

No.

By looking at the top two petitions you can clearly see why. The first one has huge popular support, but I really couldn't care less whether it goes through. But if it's important enough for these guys - sure, let them have it.

On the other hand, Fox hunting is a very polar issue. And while it is represented here as having support, there is no indication as to how many people are against it.

It's a fine way to tell the government that you are unhappy, and the government should take it serious enough to at least look into the issues. But it shouldn't be seen as a genuine reflection of the public POV or as a valid measure of the government's approval rating and it certainly shouldn't be used as a basis for policy making.

Sure (1)

RichPowers (998637) | more than 7 years ago | (#17837964)

"Is this a valid way to provide feedback to the government or merely an exercise in keeping the populace happy?"

Sure it is. Besides, if MPs or Congressmen accept emails but don't respond to them, wouldn't that also be a way of "merely keeping the populace happy"? The same could be said of letters or even face-to-face talks. Feedback, be it an e-petition or email, is only worth something if you listen to it...

Re:Sure (4, Informative)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838064)

Sure it is. Besides, if MPs or Congressmen accept emails but don't respond to them, wouldn't that also be a way of "merely keeping the populace happy"?

Interestingly enough, the same people [mysociety.org] who built this petition system for the government also created WriteToThem [writetothem.com] — write your message in a text box on the site, and they email/fax/post it to your MP. This has the advantage of them being able to spot when an MP is ignoring people and they've published league tables and other statistics [writetothem.com] about how responsive MPs are.

Re:Sure (1)

pfafrich (647460) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840198)

The FaxYourMP service by this group is probably a better method to communicate your view than the petitions. I've used it a couple of times and both times got supportive responses from my MP and once got a reply from the secretary of state.

Re:Sure (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840612)

>and once got a reply from the secretary of state
Dear citizen,
We know where you live and who your family are so please stop asking damn fool questions, if you get my drift.
Kind Regards
Sec. State.

Re:Sure (1)

pfafrich (647460) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840706)

No actually, a well though through and considered response about a specifics of UK law relating to the changes in agricultural funding systems. I also got a reply on the issue of software pattents, and my MP asked questions about this of the european commitee on the topic.

If you want to be taken seriously in a democracy you first need to give up your anonominity. MP as our elective represantatives have a certain obligation to respond to members of their constituancies.

2,400 Petitions, 1 Million SIGNATURES (5, Informative)

IanDanforth (753892) | more than 7 years ago | (#17837978)

Please edit original submission for accuracy.

-Ian

Re:2,400 Petitions, 1 Million SIGNATURES (1)

ischorr (657205) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838972)

I've never understood why editors are so very hesitant to correct errors in titles or summaries. But I suspect you will never see this fixed.

Re:2,400 Petitions, 1 Million SIGNATURES (1)

orangeyoda (958347) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840626)

Because maybe, modifying the summary would render the entire discussion obsolete, better to leave it how it is and let the comments point out the fallacies.

Re:2,400 Petitions, 1 Million SIGNATURES (1)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840712)

I've never understood why editors are so very hesitant to correct errors in titles or summaries. But I suspect you will never see this fixed.

Considering they don't even fix spelling mistakes in headlines (US Missle Interceptor Tests a Success [slashdot.org], I think that's safe bet. Taco has said he values the spontaneity and informality more than such anal concerns as being correct.

Popular Declaration (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17837984)

I expect a petition for a declaration of independence from the King across the ocean. History is always repeating itself. Maybe someone can stuff the tubes.

My experience (4, Informative)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 7 years ago | (#17837986)

I signed a petition to add an exception to copyright law for personal use [pm.gov.uk] a month or two ago. A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from the system notifying me of the government's response [pm.gov.uk]:

As you may be aware, in December 2005 the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, announced that there would be a review of the intellectual property framework in the UK, led by Andrew Gowers.

The findings of this review have now been published and recommend the introduction of a private copying exception for the purposes of format shifting. This would allow individuals to copy music which they have legally bought on compact disc onto an MP3 player without infringing copyright.

The Government welcomes this recommendation and is currently considering how such an exception should be created in UK law.

Now obviously the petition didn't have a huge effect, but at least they are aware there is public demand for this, and it's helped me keep track of what they are actually doing about it.

Re:My experience (1)

thripper (965380) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838118)

Well, I must say I'm impressed. The prime minister's people actually answered a petition singed by about 0.005 of UK's population. I would like to see this happening in Romania(where I live), or USA for that matter.

Re:My experience (2, Informative)

steevc (54110) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840398)

There's also a petition to make software patents unenforcible [pm.gov.uk] that people may wish to sign. It would be good to see it get more signatures than some of the sillier ones.

The road pricing petition is doing suspiciously well with 30x the signatures of the next most popular. That's over 1% of the population. Either someone has been marketing it well or there may be invalid signatures. You have to submit your address, but that's not hard to fake.

public opinion worthless (2, Insightful)

swell (195815) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838058)

If we had a government that listened in the USA, we would have mandatory church attendence, half the population in jail, and subsidies for any group (unions, lobbyists, Mexicans, etc) that could gather enough signatures.

Thank goodness that politicians DON'T have to cater to everyone!

Re:public opinion worthless (1)

EveLibertine (847955) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839754)

Well, as you point out, this wouldn't work very well for the federal government in the United States. However, I think if you break it down into a more local level you could see better government representation at that level. This could be a good thing for something such as a large city, though I'd definitely be afraid of which petitions get the most submissions in areas such as the bible belt. Then again, how many rednecks know enough about those internets to actually make a difference?

Then there is the question of whether or not it's really necessary at the local level. I don't really have too many complaints about my views being represented at the local level. My views might not be the one that are legislated, but at least they seem to be taken into consideration at the local level.

So, as we have agreed, this probably wouldn't work so well at the federal level, and I'm challenged to think of a methodology that would work. At least they are trying something different to solve their problems. It's seems that we're just stewing in our own excrement right now.

(sorry for repeating myself so often, I just want to be clear and am too exhausted at the moment to refine my thoughts)

The Top 50 voted on issues (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17838078)

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/list/open?sort=signers [pm.gov.uk]

The real question is why "make software patents clearly unenforcible" is so low down on the list.

Please vote here, British citizens and residents: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/softwarepatents/ [pm.gov.uk]

Re:The Top 50 voted on issues (1)

heinousjay (683506) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838302)

Probably because it only matters to a tiny percentage of the population, I would imagine. It's just not a meaningful topic to the vast (and I do mean vast) majority. As soon as programmers comprise a significant portion of the population, this has a chance. Until then, it's a dread special interest group.

Note: please don't read into this comment too deeply regarding my support or lack thereof for any measure. I am deliberately making no such statement at this time.

Tagging a slashdot question... (2, Funny)

Coopjust (872796) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838124)

Whenever Slashdot asks a question in a story I perform a service as a reader:

I tag the story "yes", "no", and "maybe".

Just doing my part ;)

Re:Tagging a slashdot question... (1)

s4m7 (519684) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839742)

funny though really, because:

Is this a valid way to provide feedback to the government or merely an exercise in keeping the populace happy?
Hell, why not both?

The petition is half-empty. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17838130)

"Is this a valid way to provide feedback to the government or merely an exercise in keeping the populace happy?"

Well it's certainly not going to keep the skeptics happy.

How about a ballot instead? (4, Interesting)

troll -1 (956834) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838136)

I'm from the UK, lived in the US for many years. This irks me a bit. When I first came to the US I was surprised at how much Americans get a real say in how their government runs.

In many states people vote on everything from whether to build a dam to who's gonna be their sheriff and fire chief. In some places they even vote for judges. In the UK it seems the best they can ever do is a petition, which of course carries no real weight. When I lived in California I was amazed that people actually got to vote on medical marijuana. In the UK such a concept would be considered outrageous. I mean, a county in England, unlike a US state, couldn't even vote to extend pub opening hours. Tough decisions like that are always left to wise men in parliament.

While I think the idea of an e-petition is good, I'd much rather see some real democracy. I don't remember a referendum ever in the UK about anything.

Sorry for the off-topic rant, but it had to be said.

How about a breath of fresh air instead? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17838216)

"I'm from the UK, lived in the US for many years. This irks me a bit. When I first came to the US I was surprised at how much Americans get a real say in how their government runs. "

Hmmm, now contrast the above with the American's view of their government.

Re:How about a breath of fresh air instead? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17838316)

now contrast the above with the American's view of their government.

Perhaps Americans are complacent because they have it so good. I mean, wide-screen TV, watching the game, fridge full of beer. But remember what happened to Nixon? Americans can sack their government anytime. The queen is head of parliament. Try recalling a monarch that you never voted for.

Re:How about a breath of fresh air instead? (1)

Atlantis-Rising (857278) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838480)

Because the last time the Queen ordered the government to invade a country was when, exactly, again? Oh... humm... 1648? The Thirty Years War? 1337, the Hundred Years War?

Re:How about a breath of fresh air instead? (3, Funny)

thetroll123 (744259) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840732)

>1337, the Hundred Years War?

1337? Shouldn't that be "teh hu|\|Dr3D y3aRz \/\/aR" then?

Re:How about a breath of fresh air instead? (4, Informative)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838842)

The queen is head of parliament.

People who aren't from the UK often get confused by this. The Queen, for all practical purposes, has no political power. No monarch has entered the House of Commons in well over three centuries.

The last time they tried it was in 1642 — Charles I tried to arrest five MPs for treason, and the House of Commons told him to bugger off. Shortly afterwards he was defeated in civil war, and parliament created a court to put a monarch on trial for the first time in history — he ended up being executed.

These days, the monarch's representatives don't even enter the House of Commons unless they have permission from the Members of Parliament. They rarely even express any political opinions.

Lots of people read history books about how kings and queens used to be dictators, but that's exactly what it is — history. The monarchy is an anachronism; a leftover we use mainly as a tourist attraction. We don't "recall" them because there's no point, not because we can't.

Re:How about a breath of fresh air instead? (0, Redundant)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839350)

The Queen (via the Gov. General) sacked the Australian goverment in the 70's, much to the surprise of many Aussies at the time. The reason was a double dissolution with the incumbent refusing to call an election. I assume she has similar powers over the UK government under similar circumstances.

Other than that she pretty much minds her own bussiness and was completely apolitical when Aussies had a referendum on becoming a republic a few years back (the referendum failed to pass).

Re:How about a breath of fresh air instead? (2, Informative)

alext (29323) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839750)

This is utter nonsense, it was entirely the GG's initiative. He represents the Queen completely, for her even to have been consulted would have been a breach of protocol.

And I've no idea what you mean by "double dissolution" as a cause, perhaps you mean dissolution was the effect?

Re:How about a breath of fresh air instead? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840604)

"This is utter nonsense, it was entirely the GG's initiative. He represents the Queen completely, for her even to have been consulted would have been a breach of protocol."

You must have missunderstood the bit where I said "via the governer general". Perhaps I was unclear, or perhaps your comprehension sucks, either way I apologise if I gave the impression that the Queen was personally involved in the sacking.

Having said that, the Queen "did it", she just didn't know "she dun it" until after the fact and thus preserved her apolitical stance, a matter of protocol only.

For your edification, section 58 of the Australian constitution:
"When a proposed law passed by both Houses of Parliament is presented to the Governor-General for the Queen's assent, he shall declare, according to his discretion, but subject to this Constitution, that he assents in the Queen's name, or that he withholds assent, or that he reserves the law for the Queen's pleasure." - ie: Every law is rubber stamped by the Queen, but she avoids getting any ink on her own fingers.

"And I've no idea what you mean by "double dissolution" as a cause, perhaps you mean dissolution was the effect?"

Your tell me I speak "utter nonsense", yet you don't have a clue what a double dissolution [wikipedia.org] is? Can you see now, how it "caused" Australia's "constitutional crisis"?

To summarize, Notice the part in section 58 that says "passed by both Houses of Parliament", Labour had the house of reps and Liberal had the senate, the senate "blocked supply" to force an election, ie: the GG could not use his rubber stamp because bills were not getting past both houses. This is not a unique situation, the difference was that Gough decided to play hard ball by repeatedly presenting the bills to the senate rather than withdrawing the bills or calling an election (using "protocol" an election should be called after the second rejection by the senate). Gough deliberately ignored "protocol" and created a legislative and fiscal deadlock that required some sort of "cuircuit breaker". He could have preemptively sacked the GG, but the GG got in first. And yes the "circuit breaker" was in effect a dissolution of the government but as you can see, that is not what I meant!

Personally I think it was a perfectly pragmatic thing to do, and if Gough had not made the GG's actions the one and only issue in his re-election campaign he would have stood a much better chance of gaining the mandate he thought he had when he was sacked. All it did, (to anyone who understood the issue at the time), was make him look like a spoilt brat that couldn't get his own way, the opposition fought the election by critsising the laws they were refusing to pass and largely ignored the contraversy by stating they were "using the constitution as a means to ask the people to decide", that effectively painted Gough as a "pinko", unsurprisingly they won. The constitution "worked" and nothing changed in that respect, the real legacy of Gough was universal health cover that now recieves strong bi-lateral support, but most people remeber him as the PM that got sacked.

How do I know all this - I was there then, and I'm still here now.

Re:How about a breath of fresh air instead? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840806)

PS: The reason Gough diliberately clogged up the works? - A big part of his government's "agenda" was to change Australia into a Republic with an Australian head of state, his sacking was the result of an ill-concived plan to force the "issue" to a climax.

Re:How about a breath of fresh air instead? (2, Insightful)

bky1701 (979071) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839568)

Funny, see, no one ever asked ME about the DMCA, net neutrality, copyright extension ad nauseam, the PATRIOT Act... need I go on? Needless to say, medical marijuana is still "bad".

Democracy theater, that's all we have. Important issues are ALL left up to the "wise" ones in the senate.

Ballot initiatives aren't really a very good idea (1)

Rix (54095) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838334)

They encourage short term thinking, and don't consider broader issues.

Re:How about a ballot instead? (5, Interesting)

TheDugong (701481) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838392)

I'm from the UK and live in Australia, which is somewhere between the US and the UK in this respect.

The problem with "real democracy" is that there are a lot of ignorant people.

For instance, Toowoomba in Queensland (QLD) which is under severe drought recently had a vote on whether to start using recycled water for drinking water, like most modern cities outside of Australia. The vote ended up being "no". The leader of the no campaign's main argument seemed to be that people will call the town "Poowoomba". The vote was held regardless of the fact that there was no other viable option anyway.

The "wise man in parliament", QLD premier Peter Beattie, has now basically said "tough luck. There is no choice. Water is going to be recycled."

The problem now is that will there be enough water in time.

I am in no way anti-democracy and will defend ignorant people having their say. However, sometimes my jaw literally drops at the ignorance of a lot of voters (and the administrators for that matter). Surely there has to be some kind of happy medium?

Re:How about a ballot instead? (1)

RealGrouchy (943109) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838630)

The "wise man in parliament", QLD premier Peter Beattie, has now basically said "tough luck. There is no choice. Water is going to be recycled."
Clearly, he voted "CowboyNeal" in that referendum.

- RG>

Re:How about a ballot instead? (1)

Timbotronic (717458) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839846)

The problem with "real democracy" is that there are a lot of ignorant people.

Sure as hell are. Here in Western Australia we've had daylight saving (Summer Time) rejected 3 times by referendum. Objections included worries that daylight saving would fade people's curtains, turn cow's milk sour and increase the incidence of skin cancer.

Despite the "no" votes, WA is currently undergoing a "trial" of daylight saving. 2 weeks ago, when the stunning Comet McNaught was clearly visible on the southern horizon at dusk, several people wrote to the local paper saying how much better it would have looked if the daylight saving trial hadn't occurred and the sky was darker. I shit you not.

Makes you wonder how these people tie their shoelaces in the morning.

Re:How about a ballot instead? (2, Insightful)

bogjobber (880402) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838582)

That's one of the really great things about federalism. Your voice can be heard and have an impact on local issues, most of the time without the national government stepping in and screwing things up.

Re:How about a ballot instead? (1)

Attaturk (695988) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838650)

When I lived in California I was amazed that people actually got to vote on medical marijuana. In the UK such a concept would be considered outrageous. I mean, a county in England, unlike a US state, couldn't even vote to extend pub opening hours.
Won't disagree with much of what you've said but I feel I should point out the scale and population levels involved. Those English counties you mention are a wee bit smaller than their trans-atlantic counterparts. California has a population of nearly 35 million I believe - spread over 400,000 km^2. And Surrey, for example, has a populations closer to one million spread over 1,500 km^2. :)

Re:How about a ballot instead? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840524)

What is the point of going to the trouble of setting up a system of representative democracy and fighting wars to protect its power if we are going to end of voting on every issue that comes up? Only very large things like the EU constitution and devolution of the UK warrant a referendum of the public. Even so it is debatable if the average person has a full enough understanding of the issues to make an informed decision on such things. Such people will only end up being led by whichever demagogue is currently running the political party their family has historically supported.

Voting for who is in charge of the local police or fire control is, in my opinion, pure lunacy. Being in charge of a very specialist fields like policing and fire fighting should be based purely on experience and merit. Mixing politics and the judiciary is also never a good thing as has been repeatedly illustrated by your adopted country.

Want things to change on a local level? Go vote in the local government elections. Want things to change on a regional level? Go vote for your regional parliament elections. You're out of luck at that level if you're English but you deserve to be punished for being nasty to the Scottish, or something. Want to change things at a national level? Vote in the national elections or try lobbying parliament. You could try voting for your MEP too. I wouldn't hold much hope of that making much difference to anything but it might keep an ageing out of fashion politician in a job for a few more years.

Re:How about a ballot instead? (1)

tuomas_kaikkonen (843958) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840650)

I am not sure have you lost a lot living without the constant advertisement bombardment from professional petition buyers. IMHO most people have no clue how to wote on those initiative ballot questions and just flip a mental coin (or mostly choose by calculating how much money they should have to pay for this decision in raised property taxes). Anyhow, the percentage of people who actually bother to vote in USA is so low that only those who think they care and their vote is counted perhaps could also bother stydying the initiatives closer, but I doubt.

What bothers me in the USA (WA state) elections is the requirement to choose a party and just vote for that party's candidates, and the problem of getting anything else but the two biggest parties into ballot.

Let's take this question into one extreme. What would be it like if we had no political parties, but instead just issues that people directly vote on? That said, someone still had to filter only most sane initiatives to ballots, otherwise we would be swaped by initiatives (well, the minimum signature number does limit them somewhat).

It is interesting to see how people balance the workload of the legislature between the paid professional members of the representatives of the people and the people themselves.

Then there is the other dimension that goes from rigid centralized top-down control to total free-for-all to decide anarchy. The zones in USA go along the state, county, and other kind of district lines. What the European Union is heading for seems like this kind of member state, county ,district model, although some countries oppose to this system a lot (especially the monetary system and constitution is opposed by parliamentary monarchies).

Then is also the difference between how well the executive, legislative, and judicial (and some might add monetary as a central bank) power is divided. In parliamentary democracies some argue that the legislative has too much control over the executive. (Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliamentary_democra cy [wikipedia.org] )

Anyhow, if you ask me, I would say that most of the times these pseudo-democratic tools are vastly overshadowed by the power of the multinational corporate money. But that is another thread althogether.

Majority doesn't always rule (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17838172)

While it is important for people to have their voices heard and petitions to be provided to the Government, a politician's job is to weigh the wants of the people he/she represents with the good of the nation. Sometimes majority rule can be harmful to the country. Sometimes it's completely accurate.

In Canada, every day in parliament there is a section called 'Petitions,' where politicians read the petitions provided to them by constituents. While it is somewhat more partisan than a simple e-petition strategy, it does display that politicians do indeed weigh petitions to a certain extent - and knowing what the majority wants is, of course, very important to what the final decision has to be. But in the end, these people (assuming they are not corrupt bastards out to fill their pockets... you can be cynical if you want, but in THEORY) have to take, even petitions with majority rule, with a grain of salt.

Re:Majority doesn't always rule (1)

snarfbot (1036906) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838396)

well the problem is, at least in the us that the majority of legislation doesnt represent the people it represents corporatations and private interest groups. compare this public healthcare vs corporate welfare. i have no firm numbers but i suspect that the majority would support the former.

like corporations passing the taxes down onto the shareholders, since they have to pay tax on any capital gains, why should the corporate entity pay taxes as well. thats double taxation, yes, so there is a system that allows them to be exempt. i think the law that shouldve been passed is that shareholders shouldnt have to pay taxes on capital gains from investments. that wouldve directly helped the people as opposed to the corporation. while either way the shareholders are benefiting, they would benefit more had they simply not had to claim capital gains on investments. corporations can amorticize all losses while the average joe does not. the average joe buys a brand new car, and it loses half its value the first year, a corporation can deduct that networth loss. etc etc etc.

Populism != Democracy (1)

moehoward (668736) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838234)


Populism and democracy are just friends. They are not married. Actually, they are not even the same species. Although some have tried to mate them (Ross Perot is a recent example), it just almost never works. I think we had a populist president in the 1910-1920's in the US.

I voted for Ross Perot twice, even though I completely disagreed with him on NAFTA and a couple of other things. The guy talked and made sense, and his stuff stood up to scrutiny at the time. And heck, at his peek in June 2001, he was polling at 28% in a 3-candidate race (not including undecideds). So, there is room (or there was after the cold war).

Populism leads to regionalism, etc. Ultimately, it leads to socialism.

The US is a socialist country (1)

Rix (54095) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838350)

As are all other developed nations. Capitalism has been quite thoroughly proven to be unstable without a socialist government.

Re:Populism != Democracy (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839028)

I think we had a populist president in the 1910-1920's in the US.

The Presidents in this era:

Willliam Howard Taft, later Chief Justice, Republican.
Woodrow Wilson, Democrat.
Warren G. Harding, Republican.

The Populists can be seen at work in the important reforms of this era, the vote for women, the direct election of senators, and so on, but also in Reaction:

Prohibition. Restricted immigration, with rigid racial and ethnic quotas, the revival of the Klu Klux Klan.

Re:Populism != Democracy (2, Interesting)

moehoward (668736) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839222)


Very good. Thanks for the insight and answer to my sort of question.

Reminds me. I always have to laugh when I think of Nixon's legacy. Always demonized as an evil republican, but he ultimately acted as a populist. For god's sake - price controls on every day needs (bread, milk). Went to China. Ended a war (vietnam) started by a democrat, lowered the voting age to 18, started getting mid-evil on oil companies, etc. Also, look at how he handled Row v. Wade. Hard to argue that he was a Republican in any major decision/policy other than supreme nominations.

Just to be inquisitive because you had an intelligent response, what are your thoughts on these points regarding Nixon?

moe

Re:Populism != Democracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840098)

Hard to argue that he was a Republican in any major decision/policy

I dunno, there was that illegal spying and corruption...

how many understood the petition they signed (2, Interesting)

pbhj (607776) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838262)

How many understood the petition they signed? 600,000?

I got an email that was trying to pass off a dated road tax experiment as about-to-be-implemented public policy - see my journal for my full response: http://yro.slashdot.org/~pbhj/journal/160052 [slashdot.org]

When I looked in to it I actually liked the sound of reduced council tax in favour of direct mileage taxation *instead* of vehicle based duty.

Unfortunately there was no "nosign" option. So 600k may have signed but what if 700k that looked at the petition didn't?

Re:how many understood the petition they signed (1)

arkhan_jg (618674) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840590)

We already have direct mileage based taxation. It's petrol duty (+VAT on both). Black box recording to enforce an additional per mile tax is a huge invasion of privacy; especially if they did tie it to using satellites. Yes, for some motorists it would work out a net saving - those that drive hardly at all, but I would imagine for the average motorist, overall tax would go up - after all, someone would have to pay for the system and the management and the enforcement to make sure nobody was tampering, and what's the point of doing it at all if the government gets no more revenue out of it?

It would be a massively over complex and expensive IT solution to a problem that is fixable by other means.

As for a no-sign petition; create a counter petition in favour of the plans. If your 700k in favour of this scheme exist, that will also inform government policy.

The petition with truthiness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17838506)

This is a great idea.

In related stories, Steven Colbert was just made King of England, and England has now invaded France, claiming "All your base are belong to us."

A great idea for initiatives/referendums? (1)

supersat (639745) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838528)

I always thought a system like this would be great for initiatives and referendums.

Why would this succeed if electronic voting is so hard? Well, electronic voting is hard because you have to provide security and anonymity. Take out one requirement and it becomes easy. Since initiative and referendum petitions require your name, address, and signature, anonymity is no longer required. Even if security was compromised, the proposals would still have to be voted on in a proper election.

A system like this would also solve a problem with the current system: to get enough signatures, paid signature gathers are virtually required. Good ideas may never see the light of day simply because the financial backing isn't there.

I can't believe (5, Funny)

peepleperson (888013) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838564)

that I'm the first to point out that the 33rd most popular petition [pm.gov.uk] is for Tony Blair to stand on his head and juggle ice-cream [pm.gov.uk].

I can't believe it's not on the top 10 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17839378)

I can't believe it's not on the top 10

Re:I can't believe (2, Funny)

adrianmonk (890071) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839788)

the 33rd most popular petition is for Tony Blair to stand on his head and juggle ice-cream.

Two things:

  1. That's truly hilarious (in a British sort of a way).
  2. If Blair has any brains or political savvy at all, he'll one-up the person who started that petition by waiting until the momentum and press coverage behind it peaks, then announcing that, because he is absolutely committed to being responsive to citizens' needs, he'd be glad to stand on his head and juggle ice cream. And then, of course, he'll actually do it, with skill and aplomb.

Re:I can't believe (1)

chiskop (926270) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840020)

And in 41st place:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to replace the national anthem with 'Gold' by Spandau Ballet. [pm.gov.uk]

We would thereby like to table the suggestion that we change the National Anthem to something more modern and appropriate and that will re-invigorate our pride. What we specifically want to see, is that the National Anthem be changed in favour of "Gold" by Spandau Ballet.

Almost two thousand people have signed so far. This is, it should be pointed out, two hundred more than have signed the petition to make software patents clearly unenforcible. [pm.gov.uk]

Democracy in action!

Re:I can't believe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840438)

Under the "more details" section, the only explanation is "If he's not going to resign, the least he can do is provide us with some entertainment." :)

Maybe they could learn from the Indian president (1)

liftphreaker (972707) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838634)

The Indian president took the initiative to open up to people via the net. It did prove itself as an easy and effective way to communicate.

Here [yahoo.com]

Dr Graffin's "Web-surdities" (2, Informative)

Tiro (19535) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838804)

One of my favorite writers posted about this a few years back. After reflecting upon his thoughts, I concluded that assembling mass support for an issue depends on individuals' personal/emotional involvement. That interest and enthusiasm can be multiplied by getting people together in physical proximity, which energizes them. Having a lot of loud, energized people in the capital city is a lot more compelling to the rest of society than an "e-protest".

Here is the link to the article: http://badreligion.com/news/essays.php?id=8 [badreligion.com]. He has since become a Ph.D and a biology instructor at UCLA.

To quote from the first two paragraphs:

Recently, I read an article in the paper that related the growing trend of "Digital Demonstrators" (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 3, 1998). It said that "virtual marches" could be an effective way to bring about social change. It stated that "activists can demonstrate with a mouse click...

This really pissed me off! First of all, it is a gross misrepresentation of what motivates social and political change. Ultimately, social change comes from an emotionally based behavior pattern. The reason people change in unison is because we are united by a similar emotional response. We are not moved to change the laws if we don't have an emotional experience that connects us to the political issue.

Obligatory Democrabus (1)

BlastM (663010) | more than 7 years ago | (#17838812)

This has been an exciting and successful new experiment in democracy. People get the impression that their opinions matter, and politicians divert attention away from things of importance!

So how long now until the House of Lords is turned into a bus to take democracy literally To The People?

"you're not the boss of me now" (1)

adrianmonk (890071) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839644)

A little bit of a tangent, but I gotta ask: am I the only one who thinks of the TV show Malcolm in the Middle when I see Slashdot stories tagged as "maybe, yes, no"? I always find myself singing "Can you repeeeeat the queeeestion?" when I see stores like this one.

And yes, this will probably be totally irrelevant to readers in the UK, who likely don't see episodes of that show (although I could be wrong).

Re:"you're not the boss of me now" (0)

vidarh (309115) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840598)

Sky One, one of the most popular entertainment channels in the UK usually show a couple of hours worth every day. They have this tendency to burn through certain series over and over again at a pace of 2-4 episodes a day.

This is modern Britain (2)

Budenny (888916) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839736)

"Is this a valid way to provide feedback to the government or merely an exercise in keeping the populace happy?"

Neither. It is a way of compiling a database of potential troublemakers.

The problem with a petition against ID cards... (3, Insightful)

simm1701 (835424) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840364)

If you are against ID cards (and I am) are you really going to put your name and address on a petition stored in a database the goverment run?

I mean really?

If I remember rightly..... (1)

mormop (415983) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840392)

There was a "consultation" as to whether the British wanted ID cards. Something like 80% were against so the government declared that the online part would be ignored because it had obviously been hijacked by the "anti brigade". After this, ID cards were sledge hammered through.

I suspect at the end of the petition period there's a shortcut on some government lackey's desktop marked "Send to Trashcan" that you can just drag and drop results you don't want onto.

Sorry if I sound a bit cynical but for all the banging on about democracy, Blair has proved, if nothing else, that he can turn a deaf ear at a seconds notice.

Re:If I remember rightly..... (1)

Builder (103701) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840634)

If I remember right, they got cuter than that... They couldn't totally ignore the on-line responses, so they counted all of them as 1. That's right, the 1000s of people who sent e-mails and filled out the forms were counted as 1 response.

Well, remember Iraq. (0, Redundant)

Elentari (1037226) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840498)

This is the government that ignored the "real life" anti-war protests that took place on its doorstep; I'm not surprised they find it just as easy to ignore digital petitions.
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