E-petitions have hit the headlines lately; first, the EU referendum, then rioters losing their benefits and soon to take to the ring, a proposal to stop the UK hitting the 70 million mark.
With MPs often too consumed with their own agendas or obediently following their lord and master to benefit their personal ambitions, the public feel they aren’t being listened to. And if the EU referendum petition is anything to go by, they are right.
But letting real people have their say is always a double-edged sword. Public anger often turns to something far uglier – baying for blood, hang-'em-high mob justice. Just check out the rejected suggestions on the government’s own petition site…
But the e-petition site is pointless if MPs don’t pay attention. It’s simply window dressing designed to convince voters that their elected representatives give a damn. But, in reality, MPs aren’t taking our concerns seriously. It may be fashionable to mock the average voter’s call return of capital punishment or national service but that is genuinely how they feel; were such measures reintroduced they would be popular, at least in the short term. A large number of people see these as necessary for the good of the country – we cannot and ought not dismiss them as the ‘lunatic fringe’.
Yet instead of a little of education here and there, our politicians choose to patronise us, as in the AV debate. What makes a bunch of Oxbridge graduates who have spent their adult lives in the Westminster bubble fit to make decisions that affect how we live? Too few, including Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, have much experience of the real world.
Morale in this country is at a very low ebb. The effects of the recession have left the rational folk embittered, poor and struggling under the heavy weights of debt, bills, unemployment and the rising cost of living. Yet our politicians don’t seem to be subject to this – unless there’s an early election they are safe for a few more years.
Stories such as a eurozone minister living it up in £20k-a-night rooms in the Ritz don’t scream recession to the genuinely afflicted back home.
It is no wonder the public want to put politics in their own hands. But are e-petitions really the answer? They are just faceless lists of names, and as we have seen, ignorable.
People need to make better use of the press if they want to make a change. When the big-selling dailies get behind something, they can give a movement huge exposure, and politicians are far more likely to pay heed to a campaign in The Sun or The Mail than an online petition. There is also nothing wrong with meeting MPs face to face, in surgeries or town halls, badgering them so that they take notice.
Newspapers feed off public opinion; they don’t want to alienate their readers, and politicians understand the press’s power against them – just ask Neil Kinnock. When hundreds of thousands of people sign a petition, that shows editors and proprietors which way the wind is blowing. By harnessing the power of the Press, popular change can happen during a Parliament.