Activism

Do petitions actually effect real change?

Adding your signature to a cause has become a stalwart of modern protests. So we asked politics professor Cristina Leston-Bandeira how they can effect change

Petition

Signing a petition has become part and parcel of protesting politics and fighting injustices.

People disaffected by the Brexit stalemate used the parliamentary e-petitions site to show their displeasure and call for Article 50 to be revoked in the record-busting, six-million signature petition back in March.

An even more recent example is the call for a public inquiry into the EU citizens who missed out on a vote in the recent EU elections, which has soured past 72,000 signatures in just four days and is now at almost 120,000.

In general terms I can say that petitions are the method that has enhanced engagement with parliament over the last few years

But how do you translate such mammoth support into meaningful change? Leeds University politics professor Cristina Leston-Bandeira has research petitions extensively and she insists that they need to be specific and dodge party political issues to avoid being derailed in parliament.

After all, an interconnected path to policymakers is also key – with the parliamentary petition site offering a government response if a petition receives 10,000 signatures and a debate for 100,000.

“In general terms I can say that petitions are the method that has enhanced engagement with parliament over the last few years,” said Leston Bandeira.

“It’s useful for the political system – it’s almost a safety valve role to say, ‘Look, we’re really fed up with this’,” says Leston-Bandeira. “It brings in another path to express your view and access policymakers.

“The petition itself doesn’t actually achieve anything aside from raising awareness, which can be quite useful in itself. But the main thing that makes a petition system is how people can sign it and collect support for it and what happens to it afterwards, which is the most important thing.”

But with all eyes on Westminster as the Brexit saga continues to roll on, petitions have played a huge role in boosting engagement and the Petition Committee’s activities are among the most popular in parliament.

“Although things like Prime Minister’s Questions are the televised debates that people might recognise and say are the most watched, they’re not,” said Leston-Bandeira. “The most watched debates are the petitions debates because the committee send an email out to everyone who has signed the petition and people do log in, they do watch it. And this is not just access for 30 seconds, this is people staying.”

Read more from Leston-Bandeira as well as the3million – the pressure group fighting for EU citizens’ right to vote – and disability campaigner Dan White on how to turn anger into action in this week’s Big Issue. Available now from vendors and The Big Issue Shop.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
'We are here and we exist': Inside the neighbourhood offering sanctuary to queer Russians and Ukrainians
Pride

'We are here and we exist': Inside the neighbourhood offering sanctuary to queer Russians and Ukrainians

Actor Liz Carr says it hurts to hear her younger self 'wanted to die'
Liz Carr
Disability rights

Actor Liz Carr says it hurts to hear her younger self 'wanted to die'

Feeling like change in the UK isn't possible? Let these 28 purposeful campaigns prove otherwise
Activism

Feeling like change in the UK isn't possible? Let these 28 purposeful campaigns prove otherwise

Back to Black actor Eddie Marsan: 'There aren't any no-go areas in Tower Hamlets'
London

Back to Black actor Eddie Marsan: 'There aren't any no-go areas in Tower Hamlets'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know