Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Supporting Online Petitions Debates

There's been much discussion about the proposal that Internet users can petition the Cabinet Office, and that the most popular could be approved for debate on the floor of the House of Commons. This would be quite dramatic stuff, which has the potential to seriously embarrass the Government of the day. Despite this, I'm in favour - in principle anyway.

I accept this proposal will be dismissed by those who hate the idea of 'populist' ideas being taken seriously. And it will be right of centre ideas that win the support. Remember that its the Sun and Daily Mail that outsell every other newspaper in the land, and between them, they could easily organise a 100,000 petition on something like 'bringing back hanging' or 'leaving the EU'. My view is "so be it". If MPs disagree with the proposals put before them, all they have to do is vote them down - in public. This is what has happened whenever there has been a vote on the return of hanging in the past.

What I do believe is that we parliamentarians have to make a serious attempt to engage with the voters, especially young voters. We do not have to do what they demand, but we do have to take what they demand seriously. For democracy to be an effective form of government, most of the people must be engaged. Otherwise, well organised minorities are able to change the law in a way the (disengaged) majority disapprove of. This is the basis of Thomas Jefferson's concerns about the 'tyranny of the majority'. Apathy has a positive impact on results. Even more so as we move to a system based on referendums - which seems to be where we are going at present. In Wales we have a referendum on Mar 3rd., another on May 5th (alongside the Welsh General Election) and at least one other set for 2012 to elect police commissioners. There might even be the odd election for Mayor as well.

Now I'm not suggesting that 'Parliament' should not retain unto itself 'safeguards' to protect the integrity of the process. For example a proposal could not be illegal (human rights), or a means to extend a recent contentious debate (tuition fees). Also, any online proposal would have to be converted into a 'bill' by parliamentary draftsmen before it could be debated. A petition would also need an MP to serve as 'parliamentary champion' - though I cannot see this being a stumbling block. In fact, I can see a whole lot of problems that would need to be overcome - but I still like the idea, and will try to play a part in bringing it to pass. I do hope the Whip's Office' like the idea as well!

No comments: