Why starting petitions for the sake of it is helping no-one

IS IT time to shelve the ineffective petition?

Often relating to key business decisions, the digital age has made it far too quick and easy for the aggrieved to create a public campaign at the click of a mouse.

And because of this, they appear to be losing their effect.

Just last week, armed with over 500 signatures and a clutch of impassioned letters, ‘Mr Worthing’ presented the new owners of a shopping centre with a desperate plea to save his iconic carousel.

At the time of writing, no reply had been received. Regardless of response, a mucky void of empty space can now be seen where the roundabout was, so the petition clearly did not do the trick.

So are they simply being ignored or has the sheer number of them diluted their effect?

As a reporter, the phrases ‘we are starting a petition’ and ‘save our x,y, or z’ are everyday occurrences in my inbox. Few, if any, have been successful.

There are no-doubt many well-meaning, current controversies which merit public support – the roundabout is a prime example.

But others just appear to be a knee-jerk reaction, set-up without establishing whether there is widespread public support.

They often fail to hit the mark.

Last summer, a petition was launched to cover the popular children’s sandpit, in Worthing town centre.

Unfortunately, not only did this example fail to gain many signatures – under 200 – it called upon the wrong organisation to take action.

Being so commonplace, I wonder whether many petitions are seen as a flash-in-the-pan, a short burst of social media frenzy that will fizzle out as quickly as they started.

If alternative avenues were sought before starting one, we might be left with fewer, selective campaigns, more likely to attract widespread public support.

My critics may look at the Herald and Gazette’s ongoing petition seeking to safeguard A&E services at Worthing Herald and brand me hypocritical for suggesting the humble petition is dead.

But with over 20,000 signatures between us and our sister papers in Chichester, it is clear there is widespread public concern and no sign of a U-turn from the powers that be. It is our only chance to change minds.

Petitions can be a powerful tool but only in the right circumstances. This is why we need to think twice before taking to ‘change.org’ or similar e-petition sites and venting our frustrations.

They remain a useful tool to demonstrate public outcry but I fear their overuse is branding them obsolete.