back to article Hasselhoff, paedophiles, and a digital Animal Farm

David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, last week recommended that online "e-petitions" should be given formal recognition within Britain's constitution. The Prime Minister's controversial e-petitions website, which forms part of the 10 Downing Street official website, allows users to start campaigns on specific …


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  1. Steve

    Has William ever looked at the e-petition website?

    Despite what his article contends, it is not possible to raise petitions where "one can crack jokes about Homer Simpson".

    I'd suggest trying out the website (or at least talking to someone who has) before writing any more articles about the subject.

    Each partition is moderated before being opened to the public and jokes are one of the types of petition that will not be approved.

    Nor are the conclusions about the potential misuse warranted either. Maybe the daily hate mail could persuade a number of people to vote for paediatricians to have human rights removed, and maybe it could reach the trigger point to start a debate.

    That doesn't mean that the debate has to last any longer than 1 minute before being consigned to the scrap heap where most far right ideas go.

  2. Ben Boyle

    Vote rigging

    Perhaps we could integrate it into the National ID scheme so that we know that the signatory actually is who s/he purports to be!


  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How on earth do the Swiss manage

    IIRC Switzerland's constitution guarantees a parliamentary debate upon submisson of a petition of >100,000 signatues.

    If they can manage, why can't the UK ?

  4. Nod Glodnig

    It works in Switzerland.....

    Here, if you can collect 100,000 signatures (real and verifiable), you can get a national referendum on it, which (AFAIK) is binding....

  5. Ben Daniel

    Never going to happen...

    Politicians actually listening to what the people want???? Not a whelks chance in a supernova...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes, but ...

    "If the e-petitions site were a recognised route into parliament, there is no reason why it would remain different from other routes, that is, dominated by organised lobbying, NGOs, and business"

    Well, the only reason is that they will provide a more level playing field. Empowering individuals and loosely affiliated groups to exert a similar political influence as the more affluent economically groups such as enterprises and lobby groups. In fact ad hoc lobby groups would be a lot easier to make, so conceivably tipping the balance of political power towards the average person.

  7. Pat M

    Isn't this what happens already?

    'Once MPs' diaries are dictated by the whims of a message board, an automated e-signatures generator or mischievous online campaign to rig the system (such as the recent one to get an old David Hasselhoff song to number one in the UK charts) could not be far behind. The notion of MPs being compelled to debate and vote on a geek in-joke may be rather entertaining, but that's precisely why it will never happen.'

    Isn't this already what happens within the media anyway, with the press dictating what they think should be the subject of debate, and whiping up a media storm around isues of their choice.

    Surely anything with more public input would be better than the current situation. The very nature of politics means that it is full of manipulation and people in it for their own personal gain. At least with more recognised public input some of the insane policies would have at least some truck with the public.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Middle way?

    Perhaps the solution is not to go the whole hog and force a parliamentary debate for every petition breaching the threshold, but simply mandate that a more formal survey of public opinion is undertaken by a politically independent body. That way it could be determined whether the petition actually bears any resemblance to real prevailing opinion.

    If the results of such a study supported the sentiment of the petition strongly enough, it would be harder for politicians to dismiss than a petition alone.

    This could also significantly reduce the incentive for gaming the system as this would only result in wasted civil servants' time if the sentiment of the petition isn't representative.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No human rights for Paediatricians ...

    Thanks for that Steve, the thought of Paediatricians having their human rights removed because of a of confusion between them and Paedophiles did make me smile.

    After all you can see that sort of thing occuring when people use MS products instead of actually learning to spell or having a dictionary handy

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    A lack of red tape? Bureaucracy? Open to suggestion?

    We only do new or alternative methods here after they have been tried and tested, give it 5 years and we will more than likely be part of what every one else is . What with the house of old farts and a bunch of past it public schoolboys trading insults, it's unlikely that we will ever be the first to post regarding any scheme... And even when we are it's for the media and not for the good of the country.

    However - who cares, pint and a spliffy PLEASE ;-)

    Oh, cant spliffy just yet, least not in an alehouse :/..

  11. Rob


    Demos (the people) Kratos (authority, rule). System of government in which ultimate political power rests with a nation's population at large, either directly or through elected representatives.

    At the moment, we don't really have a proper democratic government. First past the post is virtually the least democratic system of election, and at present you can only really get an issue raised if someone already in government thinks it would be in the national interests to have it raised. Only allowing me to vote on things that I'm "supposed" to vote on isn't even approaching a democratic system.

    There has to be checks and balances of course to stop interested parties collecting up enough signatures (real or faked) to force an issue through, but if the majority of the population vote for an increase in speeding limits (or whatever) then regardless of whether if offends your moral compass that people think that way, that is the way it should be. Arguing that the debate will be silenced because you don't agree with what is being debated reminds me of another form of government entirely.

  12. AndyB

    Oh, Really

    "Each partition is moderated before being opened to the public and jokes are one of the types of petition that will not be approved."

    Oh? Like this one, you mean????

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ever heard of ispell

    Now now no good not admitting there are spelling programs

    for Linux too however if you mispell pediatrician who cares

    unless you mispell it paediatrician then it's funny so it could

    have been on purpose. Try to imagine the concern

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Where I live this kind of thing is run of the mill. Check out Switzerland, and the ability of any citizen here to put anything to referendum simply by collecting a number (100,000 I believe) of signatures. Works here (though it's harder work to collect physical signatures than e-sigs I guess).

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Instruments of Swiss Direct Democracy

    "Popular initiative: gives citizens the right to propose an amendment or addition to the Constitution. In order to be valid, 100,000 signatures of people eligible to vote must be collected over a period of 18 months. If the number of valid signatures is sufficient, the initiative is put to a popular vote.

    Optional referendum: gives citizens the right to demand that any bill approved by parliament be put to a nationwide vote. In order to be valid, 50,000 signatures must be collected in 100 days. If the number of valid signatures is sufficient, the new law must be approved by a popular vote.

    Mandatory referendum: all constitutional amendments approved by parliament must be put to a nationwide vote. Voters are also required to approve Swiss membership of certain international organisations, such as the United Nations and the European Union."

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spelling mistakes cause confusion

    Yes, they do, as outlined above. This includes the sentence in the first response (by Steve), and quoted a bit later without correction (by AndyB) :

    ** Each partition is moderated before being opened to the public and jokes are one of the types of petition that will not be approved. **

    Each PARTITION? I thought we were talking about online petitions here, not hard drives :)

  17. J

    Re: No human rights for Paediatricians ...

    Yeah, poor guys. Think of the children!

    "Each partition is moderated before being opened to the public"

    My partitions do not need to be moderated at all, but maybe that's just Linux. And I don't open them to the public at all either. My computer is no democracy, *I* am king here. Sorta. :-)

    Now, ispell is fine, but it obviously does not deal with grammar and punctuation, let alone clarity of ideas, I see...


  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just like yesterday

    "That doesn't mean that the debate has to last any longer than 1 minute before being consigned to the scrap heap where most far right ideas go."

    But who, working behind the scenes, determines which ideas are "far right"? From this description I envisage a site staffed with mumsy Polly Toynbee types who tut and purse their lips whenever the plebs come up with something *obviously* unacceptable, such as right-to-buy council housing, private eduction, cuts in funding for the arts etc.

  19. Andy Bright

    Checks and Balances

    The real problem with our "democracy" in Britain is we have no real checks and balances. So the House of Lords can temporarily derail the odd bill, it's not really much more than an inconvenience to the Prime Minister, because he can eventually override almost anything.

    What this guy is suggesting is we allow e-petitions to be debated in Parliament and voted on. The reality is so what? How does that really benefit us? Because as the author suggests, the interference from lobbyists and business will still put a stop on anything that benefits ordinary people at the expense of the wealthy.

    So you're forced to vote on cutting MPs wages to minimum wage (in the hope that if they have to live on that much money, they'll raise it to something reasonable) - if that happened all MPs would do is vote a big resounding No Thanks.

    The bottom line is unless the public has an accessible way of stopping draconian law (such as ID Cards) - all these simpleton ideas about listening to e-petitions do is distract us from the fact Parliament, like the US Congress, is open for business to the highest bidder.

    Worse, the only bills that even approach something like a law - that aren't specifically for the benefit of the wealthy - are usually knee-jerk reactions to nasty situations (such as paedophiles). The end result is a watered down law that does no one any good, except the politicos who use it for re-election fodder.

    So instead of stupid ideas like e-petitions, what this country really needs is a way to force politicians to create laws that benefit ordinary people; and a way for ordinary people to stops laws that do them harm.

    Whether that is via the courts or something else doesn't matter - wiser heads than mine will have to work that one out - but we desperately need it, or we'll be forever doomed to crackpot schemes like ID cards, biometric passports and allowing the US government to steal our personal data indefinitely.

  20. Brian Ribbon

    Paedophiles/legal rights

    For what it's worth, "paedophile" and "child molester/sex offender" are not synonymous. Trying to remove the legal rights of someone who has never committed an offence is ridiculous.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To the Ispell bloke:

    Erm, what? I think the point was that a spelling program won't help you if you spell a word correctly, but it's THE WRONG WORD!

    Also - "unless you mispell it paediatrician" - again, what? 'Paediatrician' IS the correct spelling. Dropping the first 'a' implies you come from the USA. Don't forget, the rest of the English-speaking world doesn't use the Mickey-Mouse simplified spelling that Americans do. We'd rather learn to spell RIGHT. (Those of us that can spell at all, that is).

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Light hearted e-Petitions

    The e-Petitions web site is obviously a place people go to raise silly petitions, joke around etc. however, as demonstrated by the petition regarding road tax, it is also a place where people have started raising serious concerns. Sadly people will stop doing this as they realise it won't do any good anyway; perhaps if the people who signed the petition and received the generic fob off responded to it individually by mail it might have had more impact, who knows?

    We need the same system for raising issus as the Swizz. Perhaps if people realised their signature could result in a national vote and change the course of a Government they would be less apathetic.

    Some argue against giving the people more control by claiming their is a "greater good" which can only be served by Government making "unpopular" decisions. The greater good is euphanism for good for the elite rich: more tax and control dressed up as "green" initiatives; wars for oil dressed up as "wars on terror" etc. etc. After the performance of the last 2 Governments it is clear the people need a way to reign them in and remind them they are meant to serve us, not the other way around.

  23. Edward Fingleton

    Relative population size

    "Perhaps the solution is not to go the whole hog and force a parliamentary debate for every petition breaching the threshold, but simply mandate that a more formal survey of public opinion is undertaken by a politically independent body"

    This i feel is a very good idea, joining it with a copy of the Swiss 100'000 signatories system could work well. That said the system would have to be updated.

    The population of Switzerland is (approx. as of June 2007) 7'554'661. This means that in order to force a vote you need to have 1.32% of the country sign the petition. If we apply this percentage threshold value to the British population (approx. as of June 2007) 60'776'238 then we get a value of approx. 802'246. This would be a much more realistic threshold value to force a more formal survey.

    This is not an unrealistic value either, as petitions have more than doubled this value in the past, e.g. (1.81 Million signatories)

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