I knew there were comments by Tony Blair about the (in)famous e-petition in Sunday’s Observer… but I hadn’t realised it was a full piece solely about the e-petition itself.
It’s a sign of just how fast politics has changed in the last decade that, while I once was criticised for being a control freak, I now find myself under attack for allowing dissenting views on my own website. And there is no doubt it used to be accepted wisdom, which I too accepted, that politicians needed to frame the shape of any debate and only engage with issues on their own terms.
But I don’t believe this is possible any longer. We have to remember that No 10’s new e-petition service has not generated the views against road pricing that have been expressed by more than a million people. They were already there and it’s not possible, wise or healthy for politicians to try and sweep them under the carpet.
What it has given us is the ability, which was simply not there before, to engage with those who have signed the petition and with everyone else in the country on what are the options for tackling congestion on our roads and, indeed, the other long-term challenges facing our country.
Over the next few days, I will be sending out a response to everyone who has signed the petition against road charging, explaining the problems the country faces and why I believe road charging is surely part of the answer here as it is in many other countries.
I’m not sure I can add anything to that. Only to advise anyone in the e-government business to keep this article bookmarked for future quoting… at least until the summer. For obvious reasons.
(I haven’t signed the petition myself… but if anyone reading this did, and receives the response, I’d be very interested to see it.)