David Cameron often speaks about openness in government, but a Downing Street innovation to encourage greater public participation has been quietly shelved. Officially, the No 10 e-petitions website, launched by the previous government, is under review.
Senior Whitehall sources insist it will not return, however, partly because of the negative publicity it generated. Online petitions were used to embarrass Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Shortly after the site's debut, 1.6 million people signed a petition
demanding an end to road pricing, and nearly 100,000 used it to demand Brown's resignation in April last year. [Cameron's communications chief] Andy Coulson does not want to see a repeat of that, said a Whitehall insider.
A line on the No 10 website says e-petitions were suspended when the general election was called and hints they may return.
Martha Lane Fox, the government's digital tsar, is understood to have considered their future as part of a wider review of DirectGov, the website for all public services, commissioned by the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude. But her report,
presented to Maude last month, made no recommendations on e-petitions, and civil servants are convinced the experiment is at an end after four years. [It's] been kicked into the long grass, the Whitehall source said.
Update: Government Petition Plans
26th November 2010. Based on
A Cabinet Office spokesman has said that the government had already committed to pushing for a formal debate in Parliament for any petition that draws more than 100,000 signatures from the British public. The petition with the most signatures
would then be tabled as a Bill. Indeed, the proposal is laid out in the Coalition's recently published business plan for the next four years.
The government said it will present its petitions proposal to the House of Commons next month and, if Parliament approves, it will have a petitioning mechanism introduced in November 2011.
What's less clear is whether the 10 Downing Street e-petition website, which was largely ignored by the previous government, will be ditched in favour of bringing such a service under the roof of Directgov.
Update: Next Year
31st December 2010. See
Under the new proposals, which will be introduced next year, the most popular petition on a special Government website will be drafted as legislation and given Parliamentary time for debate.
Offsite Comment : Let's all join in not signing up to this idea of e-petitions
2nd January 2011. See
guardian.co.uk by Catherine Bennett
David Cameron's pledge to put popular demands to the Commons is neither new nor good for democracy