An unnamed minister dismissed the person behind Number 10's e-petitions website as a 'prat'. Having looked through the site and what it is doing, it's hard to find any reasons to disagree. The road-pricing petition has demonstrated what a disaster this kind of site is, not just for the government but for democracy. I can't think of something better placed to convince the voting public that their views don't matter to politicians. All that's happened is that 1.8 million people found out they can't sway the decision simply by putting their email address on a form. This will, naturally, lead them to conclude that the political process is broken.
When interviewed by the BBC about the e-petitions website his organisation implemented for Number 10, Tom Steinberg defended the idea, saying: "Academic research shows people are more willing to sign a petition than engage in any other kind of political activity."
Well that's great. But what good has any petition done in the past, either to influence politicians or make people think about what their request means? They are a publicity stunt, although you kind of lose a lot of the effect by not having people take a wheelbarrow full of paper to the door of Number 10. They are not a reliable lever for influencing political decisions. They are about as effective as writing a letter to Santa Claus, because that is what most petitions are: a wish for something to happen, not something that is even close to being implementable as policy.