My latest Register piece discusses David Cameron's suggestion that e-petitions should be (in effect) formally built into the British constitution, such that a certain number of signatures automatically triggers a parliamentary debate and vote. Although I have plenty of admiration for the work of various e-democratic friends, I think this massively misses the point, and makes Cameron look naive about the realities of government and the far more pressing democratic deficits of British society and parliament. The piece concludes that the plan would, in any case, be damned if it worked and damned if it didn't:
By proposing to merge the playful world of e-democracy with the humourless world of constitutional democracy, Cameron invites one of two outcomes. Either parliament receives an injection of unaccountable anarchy, or the online forum must lose some of its inconsequential lightness.
Which is it to be? Some might hope that by bestowing power upon an online forum, that this might spawn responsibility with it and e-citizens would cherish their new-found constitutional rights. This would be quite a gamble.
But if it did work, then e-petitions users would suffer a new problem, similar to that experienced by the pigs at the end of George Orwell's Animal Farm: they would gradually become indistinguishable from their old masters. If the e-petitions site were a recognised route into parliament, there is no reason why it would remain different from other routes, that is, dominated by organised lobbying, NGOs, and business.