Monday, May 04, 2009

No 10 Downing Street – lobbying by E-Petition

If you place an e-petition on the No 10 Downing Street website you may be interested in my experience. In early 2008 I placed a year-long petition about the need to tackle the problem of over 800,000 empty homes during a time of housing need. I e-mailed about 150 people who I thought would be interested and also the Empty Homes Agency, who passed the message on. The early weeks showed an impressive growth, but after a while signatures settled to about 1 added per day and the total was 380 when it closed in January ’09. As No 10 petitions go this was a success being number 56 out of 750 petitions on housing, by signature total. Petitions with over 200 signatures get a response from the Prime Minister’s office which was posted up after about 2 months.

In mid-2008, and in the life of my empty homes petition, the government launched its proposal for 'eco-towns' to be built in the countryside to supply new homes. This brought out local opposition against many of the sites and several e-petitions were placed on the No 10 website. These quickly gained support and by the time they closed in early 2009, 10 of these petitions gained nearly 17,000 signatures between them. But nobody (not even me) connected up the obvious fact that the anti-eco-town people should be natural supporters of the empty homes petition - to provide good homes elsewhere thus protecting the countryside from building.

Lesson for petitioners another time: In writing a petition try and anticipate what other supporters you might gain from elsewhere and from which stance, and word it accordingly. Be careful that some content doesn’t put people off unnecessarily. You cannot alter the wording once it goes live. I might have included a phrase about land value tax, but that would have been counterproductive. What I should have done was to send the eco-town petition organizers an e-mail to be forwarded to all their supporters asking them to sign up about empty homes. I am sure I could have massively increased the signatures on it. This might have pushed the empty homes campaign into the national media spotlight which is what really gets lobbying campaigns moving.

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