That Petition – what does it mean?

A quick response to some of the comment that has appeared in the media and online.

Its only got 2.3 million signatures – 17.4 million voted Leave

It is a petition, not a referendum. Comparing it with the Referendum is comparing apples and oranges. As a petitionit is quite extraordinary.

Over 2 million signatures in 24 hours is unprecedented for a Petition and clearly represents something? But what?

So what does it mean?

Even if it’s only a surge of activity amongst a (minority?) of Remainers it matters, for a variety of reasons?

It clearly shows the increasing power of social media – it was largely ignored by traditional media until it was over a million – it was amplified via Twitter and other platforms.

If (big IF) there was another Referendum then what the Petition (and the marches, weekly stalls all over the country, success of @TheNewEuropean etc) suggest the Remain side would have a huge army of ground troops. Something that was missing in the 2016 Referendum?

And of course it will be a massive morale boost to Remainers of all stripes.

There is no corresponding mobilisation on the Leave side. The pitiful size of the Farage March, the few dozen ‘yellow vests’, the empty threats about road blockades – all suggest there is no ‘equal and opposite’ movement?

This could be very important in the future.

It’s all just Russian bots foreigners and people signing multiple times

No, it isn’t.

A House of Commons spokesperson told me:

“We ask petitioners to confirm their details, including name, email address, and postcode. The Government Digital Service (GDS) investigates signature patterns to check for fraudulent activity on petitions. Any signatures which match more than one of the criteria indicating fraud are removed. Much like the traditional paper petitioning system which asks people to provide an address and signature, the e-petitions system aims to strike a balance between allowing people to easily register their support for issues which are important to them, whilst discouraging dishonesty. 

They continued “GDS use a number of techniques, including automated and manual, to identify, block or remove signatures that are clearly bots. We are unable to comment further on our security checks.”

 And finally they added “Anyone who is a UK resident or a British citizen can sign a petition. This includes British citizens living overseas.”

Parliament and MPs will just ignore it anyway?

Parliament can’t – there will have to be a debate on it (anything over 100,000 gets a debate). But that may well be too late to effect anything.

MPs will notice. The Petition allows them to see what the response is in their areas. They know that this level of activity about anythingis significant, and some are in marginal seats.

So overall the Petition is important. Indeed it’s pretty unique in UK politics. But then what isn’t at the moment?

10 thoughts on “That Petition – what does it mean?

  1. Your comments are mostly accurate, but what you have not included is the idea of proportional representation that this and other petitions show. There is only a certain percentage of people who are willing/able to sign petitions in the first place, let’s say it’s 50% of UK citizens. Then there are people who are willing but not able (this is an online petition and not everyone has access to the website), cutting that figure further, let’s say to 40% of UK Citizens. There there are those who are oblivious to petitions, e.g. children, elderly,etc, cutting this figure further, let’s say to 20%.
    If the population of UK Citizens is roughly 60 million, 20% of those represent 12 million people, from all political persuasions. As it stands, almost 25% of those 12 million have signed the petition in the last 36 hours, with that figure still growing strongly.
    Surely, Ms Leadsom’s comments in the HoC yesterday (17.4 million representing 51% of a 72.2% turnout) should be re-adjusted to consider this concept, and therefore is/when the petition reaches circa 6 million, the voice of the people can no longer be ignored?
    The petition is not a referendum, but perhaps (at very least) indicates the need for one that includes the idea of revoking Article 50?

    • At the current rate, which shows no sign of slowing down, it will exceed 17.4 million before the previous exit date of 29th March. Just as a fantasy, would that be a strong enough message to the government?

  2. There’s going to be a lot of hand-waving about numbers, and we’re just guessing about how many people could sign this petition if they wanted to.

    My view of the Referendum’s 17.4 million is that it means the government isn’t listening to 2/3 of the people.

    What’s followed shows that, collectively, our elected representative haven’t even tried. Their reaction to this petition is going to be a test of whether they can ever be trusted again. We voted to ask them to look, to figure out what could happen, and pick a good choice.

    They have not all been clueless incompetents, but too many look that way.

  3. The significance of petitions has long interested us in the Consultation Institute.
    In our book, “The Politics of Consultation” which we published last year (have you seen it, Colin?) we have delved into the issue. For the truth is – unlike the big national petitions such as that on Article 50 – most petitions are local small-scale expressions of opinion. What’s interesting for us is that often when people sign a petition, for example opposing a housing development or against closing a care home, they think they have responded to the Council’s public consultation! Petitions perform useful if limited functions – especially agenda setting and quantifying the extent of support for a proposition. As such they play a part in the democratic mix …

  4. Solid post. Would note that parliament isn’t actually required to hold a debate, it only has to consider it. Previously, four of the top ten petitions were not accepted for debate. Sometimes this is because parliament can’t actually do anything about the petitioned issue, but sometimes it’s done through the argument that they held a simar debate previously. There are a couple of candidates they could cite for this and given this government’s record on accountability it might be a bit optimistic to say it’s a done deal just yet. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  5. As has already been stated such petitions are not available to a large number of people but this also applies to petitions urging that Brexit goes ahead. Scrapping article 50 has now surpassed 4 million votes but an opposing petition supporting Brexit received just over 3 hundred thousand. This is a good measure of the strength of opinion to stay in the EU, as it has a similar target audience.

  6. Since this post was created there are now over 6 million signatures on the petition to revoke A50 and remain in the EU. It’s phenomenal, and there is nowhere near the online support for the leave equivalent (though it’s still a significant number), nor has a new one been set up to rival the 6 million one. Interesting, too, that there was not the same surge of response to the sister petition calling for a people’s vote. Also notable that when MPs were choosing between next options via indicative votes, the blindingly obvious one missing was the vote to remain in the EU (until such time as there is an alternative plan which could actually work)??

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