Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Direct Democracy? How No. 10 is using the Web.


At the time of writing, some 1 million signatures have been added to a petition opposing a government proposal on road pricing. This is giving a substantial headache to the bright young - and hugely ambitious - Transport Minister, Douglas Alexander, and a lot of fun to everyone else, because of the fact that this very successful petition was started on none other than the No. 10 website. As part of its bid to develop an e-democracy the website developed an online petition facility - and the result has been extraordinary.

Is this a case of an idea exploding in the face of its creator? Or is it an example of how this government, so masterly in the arts of spin and PR, has found another way of channelling opposition where it wants. After all, in response, Tony Blair will be directly emailing the petitioners with his response - bypassing the normal media filter. The BBC's Nick Robinson is certainly a proponent of this theory, which he outlines briefly on his blog. And, of course, there's another factor - could this be the beginning of the development of online referendums? Once they become easy to stage, direct democracy via the net may be just a few steps away! That might delight the devotees of the Athens system, and appall the adherents of De Tocqueville!

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