This was going to get ignored but, the BBC having beaten us to it by featuring two Downing Street mass spams in a couple of days, it will have to be said. The government response to e-petitions is to fire off a patronising spam telling you that your concern was noted but Tony is now going to explain patronisingly and irritatingly why you are wrong and the government will pay no attention.
The UK government is experimenting with online petitions. Two had massive numbers of people taking part, to express opposition to road-pricing and/or the national ID card. There were over a million against road pricing and around 800,00 against ID. (You can see where people’s priorities lie…)
Now, clearly the only people who sign one of these are those who care strongly enough an issue to sit at at a PC, find the site, find the right petition and send their name, get an email and reply to it. Which requires knowledge of the whole process, plus the will to go through it. You’d imagine that you could multiply these numbers by at least 50 to get a true idea of the strength of feeling.
It’s like cheap MORI poll for the government. It requires an address and postcode. The government can get plenty of very detailed information about which issues people find important and where they live, which could be very useful in an election campaign.
How sane is then, to reply to everyone with emails that set the teeth on edge? I was shown a copy of the ID mail and it basically said
“Thanks for the e-petition. However, the government is not interested. You obviously don’t understand the issues or you wouldn’t have ventured your opinion. ID will fight crime, let you go to America and will hardly cost you anything. in any case it’s inevitable”
Ok, I admit to some exaggeration in the precis here. But it was way too long and boring to read (Yeah, yeah, people who live in glass houses…)
In fact, yesterdays’ blairspam alerted the Opposition to the fact that the ID was to be used as the basis for a national registry of fingerpints. Funny, you didn’t really mention this before, HM Government.
Today’s news item is the road pricing one. This was worded slightly more cagily – over a million opponents, remember – but the impression I got from the BBC was that the government was saying a slight more appeasing version of exactly the same thing “Tough, it’s inevitable but it will be out of our hands and private companies will run it. Nothing we can do mate”
Here’s my response:
I welcome your move into the technological world of email spam, Tony. It’s an exciting new contribution to the democratic process.
However, I’m sorry to have to explain to you that there may be some misunderstanding here about the nature of consultation. This is for your own good and it was inevitable that someone would have to do it.
Consultation is not really achieved by hearing contrary views then telling the electorate that they don’t understand the issues and that process x is inevitable and is for our own good really.
It is actually not inevitable that the government carries detailed ID information on those citizens who aren’t engaged in organised crime deeply enough to escape the system.
It’s not inevitable that intrusive technology takes over from competent policework or that the data that we provide the government is dictated by the requirements of the US immigration service or that we even have to stump up our own cash so Big Brother can keep an even closer track of us(probably private sector) These seem a lot like political decisions, Tony.
I will just take this opportunity to explain what a “political decision” is . I have to admit I’m surprised that this is necessary for someone who’s worked his way to the job of Prime Minister, but that’s one of the drawbacks of our tragically underfunded private education sector….
And what a lucky coincidence that the announcement about partial troop withdrawal from Iraq (for once, slightly better than normal war news) was leaked on ID Emailspam day and released on the Road-price Emailspam day.