Saturday, February 10, 2007
A Million Minds Against
The anti-Road Pricing petition crossed a million virtual signatures today. I wonder how many petitions in the past, offline or online, have reached that many signatures? The phrase "one million signatures" has over 50,000 results on Google but trackig down petitions that have achieved that level isn't so easy. The "General Babaginda: The One Million Signatures Internet Petition Drive" hasn't done so well. So far it looks to have signed up 434 people. Another, “One Million Signatures Demanding Changes to Discriminatory Laws”, has achieved 1360 sign-ups. Perhaps the first clue in marketing your aim is to avoid putting "one million" in the title, Alex Tew's million dollar home page notwithstanding. But it has happened. In April 2006, after one year of work, over a million signatures on a petition - known as the "Big Noise Petition" - asking to "make trade fair" were handed over in Indonesia. The absence of many, more obvious petitions, says that this is, however, a big deal. Whether signing a petition is made easier by the Internet or not, 1 million people saying they're pro or con a specific issue and doing so on the Downing Street website is a "big noise". Similar petitions, for instance Scrap all existing and planned tolls, "road pricing" and so called "congestion charging" reached only 2,500 odd signatures. Another has only 942 signatures. Someone understands marketing better than some others it seems. The link from the Number 10 homepage to the petition site says "Use our popular online petition system to make your views heard". When you click through, it goes on to say "Petitions have long been sent to the Prime Minister by post or delivered to the Number 10 door in person. You can now both create and sign petitions on this website too, giving you the opportunity to reach a potentially wider audience and to deliver your petition directly to Downing Street." I wonder if Downing Street knew what they were getting into when they launched this service. The FAQs for the site say "Once your petition has closed ... it will usually be passed to officials who work for the Prime Minister in Downing Street, or sent to the relevant Government department. Every person who signs such a petition will receive an email detailing the Government's response to the issues raised." Interesting use of the word "usually." This will probably be the first time a government department sends out over 1 million emails in one go (HMRC will perhaps have sent out over a million throughout all of January acknowledging receipt of self assessment forms). I'm intrigued about a few things though. For instance, why has no one countered with a high-volume "Implement road pricing faster" petition (the nearest I could find has so far attracted only 261 signatures; another with 182 signatures wants to do the same but increase fuel tax)? Surely there are environmental benefits to be obtained by restricting the number of cars on the road through tolls? There ought to be more directly financial benefits too - enough to make more people pro? The DfT website says "1. A well designed local road pricing scheme has the potential to reduce congestion significantly ... reduced journey times, improved journey time reliability and significant improvements in public transport provision. 2. On a more national level the recent Eddington Transport Study gave strong backing to congestion-targeted road pricing ... well designed pricing schemes stand out above all other transport interventions. Analysis of one road pricing scenario - a national scheme - suggested congestion could be some 50% below what it would otherwise be in 2025 and annual benefits were estimated at £28 billion by 2025 ... The costs of implementing such a scheme would of course need to be accounted for, nonetheless there is clear potential for significant net benefits Given David Davies' recent letter to vendors planning to pitch for ID cards business, can we expect to see a similar letter to those who try and get involved in this? After all, I believe the No2ID petition reached only 30,000 signatures. Will the Conservatives seize the opportunity to launch a policy on the back of this petition? Or will the 59 million people who haven't signed it rise up and demand that it go ahead (the absence of a strong counter-petition makes this, sadly, more than a little unlikely) The Road Pricing petition closes on the 20th February (a week on Tuesday), so what happens then? A change in policy? A Conservative airwaves grab? Or "no noise" (would that be static?)? Lots of people will be watching and, perhaps, waiting for their e-mail. There's an opportunity not to be lost here. An email of political double speak or, worse, "thank you for taking the time to sign up to this petition, your views are important to us" would be a great shame. Perhaps the most likely response will be a heavily edited chunk of the DfT business case outlining the pros and cons. Now if there was a voting button showing "convinced" or "not convinced" at the bottom of that mail, maybe we'd be into an interesting dialogue.
Posted by Alan at Saturday, February 10, 2007