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Revoke Article 50: the folly of policymaking by petition

January 2, 2020

There is still a vigorous debate raging in Liberal Democrat circles about the Revoke Article 50 policy that Jo Swinson and her team unwisely thrust to the forefront of their campaign and which cost them dear in terms of lost votes and seats.

One of the frequent justifications advanced by those still vainly defending this policy is that it had wide support among the general public. The only evidence they can produce for this claim is a single petition on the UK Government and Parliament website that attracted 6,103,057 “signatures”. This prompted me to reflect on the value of online petitions which are now commonplace, with many of us constantly urged to sign them.

This petition attracted considerably more than the 3,696,419 votes the Liberal Democrats received in last month’s General Election and shows the folly of being seduced by the large numbers some of these petitions quickly attract. Online petitions are created in haste and all too easily signed in haste with little real thought given to the subject, its implications and consequences, let alone any potential complexities. This one is a case study that proves all of those points.

It is badly worded. Leaving aside the poor grammar, it makes endless assumptions about the state of the Brexit debate in the middle of last year, the shift – or otherwise – in public support for Brexit, the likelihood of a second referendum and completely fails to address the question of “what next?” if Article 50 was revoked.

Clearly, many people clicked to sign this petition without giving it a moment’s thought. It appears the Liberal Democrat leadership did the same. I doubt very much whether there were ever six million people who really believed in Revoking Article 50. Interestingly, some earlier “Revoke Article 50” petitions on websites such as Change.org attracted only a few hundred or a few thousands signatures. This should have prompted Swinson’s team to pause before adopting this as their showpiece policy for the General Election.

Obviously, some hard core Liberal Democrat supporters believed it. Perhaps some Labour supporters believed in it too but there it ends. It was naive to believe otherwise.

From → Politics

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