This blogpost isn’t about the bombing of Syria. Or maybe it is.
Petitions have been with us for decades. But they’ve taken on a life of their own in recent years. The internet has made it easy for anyone to set one up, and to reach thousands (if not millions) of people. The government has promised to discuss a matter in parliament if a petition attracts more than 100,000 signatures. (They haven’t, of course, promised that more than two people will be present in parliament for that discussion.)
At first glance, surely this is a wonderful thing? It means more people will think about and engage with matters that affect us all. It widens democracy, keeps people involved. Given past concerns that most people were disengaged we should, surely, be encouraged that so many are willing to express their opinions.
Or, we could argue, the sheer proliferation of petitions effectively weakens them all. I’ve lost count of the different petitions I’ve seen demanding parliament has a vote before Brexit terms are agreed - all phrased slightly differently. There are petitions to ban plastic straws, restore hunting (I’m trying to be balanced here - personally I’d keep the ban), provide sanitary products for girls in schools ... the list is endless. And yes, they all matter. But are all these petitions really an effective way of promoting change?
Speaking personally, I’ve stopped signing any.
I have two reasons. For a start, I can’t sign a petition without giving my email address, and that results in a bombardment of spam. There is no way I can sign and insist that my contact details remain private. Who else are they selling my details too? And what use are they put to?
Secondly, I have yet to see one petition that actually made a difference. While I’m delighted to see so many people feel strongly about Brexit or badgers or milk bottles, there is no evidence that those in power give a monkey’s toss what we think. Which is deeply depressing, given the mess the world is in at the moment.