Monday, October 15, 2007

Who said petitions didn't work?

The government's retreat from a national road charging scheme is seen, by The Daily Telegraph at least, as a victory for people power, coming as it does in the wake of the No. 10 petition opposing such a scheme.

This attracted a record number of supporters – in excess of 1.8 million – and the government move is being slated as "bowing to the groundswell of opposition".

Actually, it is not as simple as that. Even in March, the government was signalling its retreat from a single national system and well it might. The technologies for such a vast system are by no means proven, there exist huge problems with the DVLA database and the IT implications were colossal. Furthermore, there were unresolved civil liberties problems.

Then, it cannot be a coincidence that, as delays built up with the EU's Galileo satellite positioning system – which was to form the basis of the original scheme – that the government should lose its nerve and put the road charging project on the back-burner.

However, that said, the fact of 1.8 million people signing up to the petition did send a message to government that there was significant opposition to the whole idea and that must have been a factor in the government’s thinking.

Compare and contrast, though, the pitifully low support for the plethora of petitions for an EU referendum, and the opposite message comes through. And the key difference between the exercises was that the media threw its weight behind the No. 10 road charging petition, instead of trying to run their own (although The Telegraph did try, with little success).

Any government looking at the petitions could only conclude that there is not much public passion behind the calls for a referendum on the treaty.


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