Friday, 22 February 2008

On the value of petitions

I was speaking last night to a good friend who has retired early from being a fairly senior civil servant. I asked him frankly whether these e-petitions (such as the one a couple of posts ago) really have any influence at all. He thought not. 'Ministers are going to do what they want to do' he said. It would take a very serious petition, a couple of million signatures strong, to make them take any notice.
What does work, he said, is individual letters to MPs. They say that one letter on a subject represents ten who think the same way but haven't written. An MP always has an eye to his re-election, and if there is a substantial body in his constituency holding one point of view, he has to take notice, particularly in the current climate of low turn-out for elections. A couple of hundred votes one way or the other could very well make the difference.
My friend also commented that letters directly to ministers are simply passed on to a subordinate to answer, and are thus effectively ignored. However, a letter to your MP requesting that he take a matter up with the minister concerned is the best of all, since the minister must personally reply to the MP, and this reply will normally be forwarded to you.
Finally, as to those postcards which SPUC distribute to be filled in: these are simply ignored as an obvious pressure campaign requiring little commitment on the part of the sender, my friend commented. If you want genuinely to make a difference, write your own letter to your MP.

2 comments:

GOR said...

Welcome back, Father! Your friend's remarks bear out something I have thought for some time. The 'organized petition' is probably more common here in the US than in the UK, but I have always been doubtful of its effectiveness.

Were I in the position of receiving hundreds or thousands of such lookalike petitions, I would probably ignore them as being an organized 'political' ploy.

A personal letter to one's local representative would appear to be more effective. As they say over here - with typical American grammatical license - "All politics is local". The main goal of most politicians upon election is to get re-elected, so attention to those who put them there should prevail.

Anthony Ozimic said...

Regarding postcard campaigns by SPUC: SPUC only conducts postcard campaigns occasionally - we make it clear repeatedly that the best form of communication to MPs are indeed freely-composed postal letters to one's MP.