Some people out there are getting very het up about the fact that a petition to have a no-confidence vote on David Cameron as prime minister is closing in on the 100,000 signatures mark. The significance of the six-figures is that once the petition reaches this many signatories, it can be considered for a debate in parliament. The word “considered” is the real key here.
This is all part of Cameron’s own initiative, enacted in 2010 shortly after he became prime minister, around e-petitions, the idea being to boost “transparency and democracy” apparently. The only problem is, it’s a fudge. And even if Cameron had had the best of intentions with the whole thing (which I very much doubt), it would inevitably have been a fudge regardless. This is because of the way our parliamentary democracy works.
A good example of the whole process from start to finish was an e-petition to have a debate of no-confidence on Jeremy Hunt as health secretary, one which managed to get 220,000 signatories earlier this year. It hasn’t been debated by MPs yet, despite going well over the 100,000 threshold. This is because the whole thing was structured so that once past the one hundred grand mark, the issue could be “considered” for debate – in other words, it could also just be ignored. Also, the debate, should it take place, would be in Westminster Hall, not the House of Commons. In other words, even if the debate took place, it would be a sort of sub-committee style thing.
But let’s just say for a moment that not only did the debate between MPs take place in regards to a no-confidence vote on Jeremy Hunt as health secretary, but when it did so Cameron voluntarily put it in the Commons. And let’s say for the sake of this discussion that somehow the opposition defeated the government on the motion – in other words a vote of no-confidence was carried by a majority of MPs debating it. Then let’s go even further into science fiction and say that Cameron took that as the voice of the people and sacked Jeremy Hunt as health secretary. Thing is, Cameron could just hire him back as health secretary thirty seconds later. Or a week later, or a month later. Or make him Chancellor of the Exchequer. Because in the British parliamentary system, the prime minister chooses the cabinet himself; it is not directly elected by the people. So any pretence to direct democracy is just a lie here, folks.
Same goes for the current prime minister no-confidence e-petition. They can get a million signatures and it doesn’t make much of a difference. The people get to decide who becomes prime minister in a general election, based on who is the leader of a given party they vote for. Cameron will stop being prime minister when he a). steps down voluntarily (most likely) b). is forced out by his own parliamentary party or c). faces another general election and loses. The e-petition route is not on the list, you’ll note.
So sign away, those who are determined to “give Cameron a bloody nose”. If it makes you feel better, that is.