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E-petitions: Do People Really Want to Bring Back the Death Penalty? Or Maybe Just Want Free F1 Viewing?

Posted on the 05 August 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
E-petitions: Do people really want to bring back the death penalty? Or maybe just want free F1 viewing?

Parliament: Could your e-petition end up here? Photo credit:

The Government’s attempt at finding out what the people of Britain really want misfired this week when its e-petition website crashed under the weight of the death penalty debate. But while they work out the bugs in the new system, some commentators are wondering whether these e-petition things are really a good idea.

According the e-petitions site, the new forum is “an easy way for you to influence government policy in the UK”: Basically, you create an e-petition about anything the government is responsible for, such as the death penalty or UFO regulation, and if you get 100,000 people to sign it, it will be eligible for debate in the House of Commons. At the moment, several of the e-petitions available to sign are about e-petitions, including one “Vote Against E-Petitions”, another to replace e-petitions altogether with e-surveys, with the caveat that they’re “much fairer”, according to the poster, and still another simply reading “don’t listen to idiots signing e-petitions”.

Two of the top five most signature-attracting petitions call for a restoration of the death penalty in the UK (the last execution in the UK occurred in 1964; capital punishment was officially abolished for murder in 1969 and for all other offenses in 1998). But the second most popular petition demands “Keep Formula 1 Free to Air in the UK”, sporting more than 5,000 signatures.

Top most interesting e-petitions right now:

  • compulsory IQ tests for politicians
  • Removal of Richard I statue outside Parliament
  • The politicians must do what the people demand!
  • End mass immigration
  • Limit incomers’ entitlement to human rights
  • Stop wasting money
  • Resign (calling on David Cameron to resign)

So is this a brave new dawn for democracy? Or just a chance to let the cranks have their say in a mismanaged forum that will go no where?

  • This isn’t democracy. Mary Beard, Times Literary Supplement blogger, noted that even in theory, these e-petitions aren’t really about democracy: “The point about democracy is not that we take every silly idea seriously, it is that we take every worthy idea seriously — and that those should not be the ideas of the rich or the privileged or the men or the old, but ANYONE’s ideas. That’s what’s democratic about it. Democracy isn’t something done at your lap top after a glass or two late at night.” But that also may be the more subtle game that the “young mandarins” in charge of the site are playing: An e-petition requires 100,000 signatures before the topic could even become eligible for debate in Parliament and, given the proliferation of petitions on the death penalty issue alone, they’re almost guaranteed not to make that number – sort of a divide and rule concept. “If so, I’m all behind them.”

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