Today’s Guardian has an article entitled “Public to choose policies as coalition gets the X Factor“, stating ministers will ensure that the most popular petition on the government website Direct.gov.uk will be drafted as a bill. Sigh.
There is not a hope in hell that this is going to work. I’m not even sure if it’s desirable, but that’s not the problem. It’s not going to work. And indeed, far from bridging the disconnect between citizens and politics, it might actually deliver precisely the opposite.
X Factor has a credible bargain. The most popular act wins, and they then get fame. Simple.
Allowing people to all vote, en masse, for ideas on Direct.gov.uk and then actually debate those in Parliament is really asking for trouble. As I mentioned just last week when they did something similar at Change.gov in the USA 15 of the top 50 suggestions were about cannabis – people gamed the system. If you’re motivated by something like this (or indeed something like trying to get the UK out of the EU, or reintroducing the death penalty) then you get your issue talked about by a bunch of politicians, who will all agree they don’t actually agree with you. So you get angry.
It’s not too dissimilar to the EU Citizens’ Initiative – I’m sure you could muster up 1 million signatures against nuclear power in Europe, but the European Commission is never going to bring forward legislation of that sort.
While it’s not absolutely certain that proposals are in all cases going to be things that the political mainstream finds unpalatable, in both cases this is a very dangerous process – a bargain that is not credible is being institutionalised.