The Times is reporting that town halls would be forced to take action over petitions with more than 200 signatures under new proposals to devolve power to voters. This is Hazel Blears' big idea for making councils act on demand of the power of the people. This is straight out of "The Big Book of Stupid Political Ideas" (foreword by some unknown Lib Dem - probably their leader). Blears has obviously given this "giving democracy back to the people" idea a lot of thought. Even the figure of 200 signatures isn't entirely arbitrary. She says "If the number was too low, say about 25, a small group of people could waste the council’s time. But if the number was too high, at around 500, it might be difficult to get enough signatures for an important issue.” Very scientific.
All this does beg one or two questions...
Firstly, as we all know from the No.10 epetitions, most people are more interested in the "making the PM stand on his head and juggle jelly" issues rather than slightly more pressing issues such as crime or health. Never fear, good old Hazel has thought of this too. Any petition getting the required signatures would mean that councils would be required to respond, either by changing policy or giving a full explanation of why the request was turned down. So they act in exactly the same way as if anyone asked the council to do something then?
Secondly, given Hazel's brilliantly worked out scientific equation for the number of people that makes a request worthwhile, does that mean a specific issue surrounding antisocial behaviour on a street or more street lighting on a street with only 100 people on it will now be ignored? Surely the issue isn't just about who signs a petition, but what the actual issue is?
Thirdly, is this just not government bureaucracy dressed up as local democracy? We all know it will make no difference to the decision making process. But it will mean more work for some council jobsworth official and will also provide more ammunition for the council accused of doing nothing and not listening to its people. If it is a new policy from the government that looks and sounds like democracy, someone is probably trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
Maybe I am just being cynical. After all, look at the No.10 petitions and the difference they have made. Oh. Absolutely no difference whatsoever.