Like many people I’ve signed a few petitions on the Number 10 Downing St web site. Although I like the idea of this site, signing a petition is almost always a disappointing experience. To be more accurate it’s not the signing that’s the disappointment, it’s the response from the Government that turns up by email a few months later. The responses generally range from “we will consider this proposal” to “we are unlikely to do this”. Very rarely do they fall outside of this spectrum.
Yesterday I got a response to a petition. The petition asked the Government to release its postcode and address database for free public use. The response was predictable. In summary it said “Give away our data for free!?! Don’t be silly.”
It was, as expected, all rather disappointing. But I started to wonder if it would be different if there was any other party in power. Would the Conservatives or the Lib Dems be more likely to make this data free. Obviously I’m not likely to change my vote on the basis of a single issue like this, but if I had more information on how different parties would respond on a number of specific issues I would be better placed to decide who to vote for.
I shared my new-found insight with my friends on Twitter:
In the run-up to the election, perhaps other parties should also give their responses to Number 10 petitions.
And in the main, the response I got was pretty positive. So I gave it some more thought.
In a way it’s unfair on the party in power that they are the only ones who have to give definitive answers to petitions like this. Of course they don’t actually have to give answers (this is a new initiative and they don’t guarantee responses to all petitions). They also have an advantage in as much as they have the Civil Service to do any research required in order to provide an answer. But the other parties might be interested in formulating responses to at least some of the petitions. I know we’re over six months away from the General Election and that means that most parties are loathe to be tied down on specific policies, but the petitions system gives a sample (albeit it a really small and self-selecting sample) of what the electorate are thinking and worrying about. It could be a good way to test the water with small policy hints.
Technically I don’t think it’s a difficult proposition. If the petitions site generated a web feed of soon-to-close petitions then interested parties could subscribe to that and see what responses they would need to produce in the near future. They could then email a link to their response to the people running the Number 10 site and all responses could be included in the email that is sent to everyone who has signed a petition.
What do you think? Do you want more responses to Number 10 petitions? Would you be interested in reading what other parties have to say? Or would it just become another channel for cheap political point-scoring?
Oh, I’ve just realised the most important question to answer. Would you invite the BNP to take part?