Diffusion of road pricing petition

The momentum of the on the 10 Downing Street petition is  interesting – it has grown from 50,000 at Christmas to almost 1.4 million today.  In fact, it has increased by 2,000 since I started writing this post.

Today I received an email from a friend who thought I’d find the petition of interest – not realising I’d originally blogged on the topic a month ago.  But what fascinated me most was that the petition was diffusing from online to offline to personal communications – and being transformed en route.  Examining the email:

Subject: Road use taxing — NOT A JOKE If you drive a car, please read – Sarah Kennedy was talking about this proposed car tax scheme on Radio 2. Apparently there is only one month left to register your objection to the ‘Pay As You Go’ road tax. The petition is on the 10 Downing St website but they didn’t tell anybody about it. Therefore at the time of Sarah’s comments only 250,000 people had signed it and 750,000 signatures are required for the government to at least take any notice.

Government conspiracy appears – as the email doesn’t realise the site is designed to enable anyone to post a petition.  The deadline is 20 February and there is no obligation on the government to respond to a specific number of signatures.  It continues:

The government’s proposal to introduce road pricing will mean you having to purchase a tracking device for your car and paying a monthly bill to use it. The tracking device will cost about £200 and in a recent study by the BBC, the lowest monthly bill was £28 for a rural florist and £194 for a delivery driver. A non working mother who used the car to take the kids to school paid £86 in one month. On top of this massive increase in tax, you will be tracked. Somebody will know where you are at all times. They will also know how fast you have been going, so even if you accidentally creep over a speed limit in time you can probably expect a Notice of Intended Prosecution with your monthly bill. If you are concerned about this Orwellian plan and want to stop the constant bashing of the car driver, please sign the petition on No 10’s new website (link below) and pass this on to as many people as possible. Sign up if you value your freedom and democratic rights – http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/traveltax Also please pass on….

Here we have fear appeal, connection with a group, and a classic Bernays technique of association – if you are concerned as a motorist, you must sign this petition.

I found the copy of this email and/or the BBC study cited on 350 blogs and discussion sites – including many on the .  The earliest appearance is 4 December.  However, I have not been able to find the BBC undertaking such a study with no links to an original report.

Does this diffusion help a campaign or is the distortion potentially damaging?  Will we see the government quietly drop its beta experiment with online petitions as a result of the momentum here?  I’m eagerly watching how this one develops.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

6 thoughts on “Diffusion of road pricing petition”

  1. Heather, this is going to be trialled in Cambridge, we are not looking forward to it. What is the point of having a petition if it is going to be ignored? Is it demonstrating democracy at work? Is it going to be like the FoI Act, a victim of its success? It would appear so.

  2. Ellee – I heard discussion of “trials” on Andrew Marr’s show a few weeks ago, when the whichever minister said that people couldn’t possibly comment until it had been trialled in practice. Given that it is unlikely to be withdrawn after any trial, we clearly know what that means in terms of “you’re going to get it anyway”.

    I drove into London last night (as I was returning home at a time when I won’t get the trains alone) and noticed all the signs regarding the extension of the Congestion change zone which is effective 19th Feb. This strikes me as another “democratic consultation” that was ignored and with the split of some roads being outside and others inside the new area, a plan to catch as many people out as possible (especially visitors) so that the won’t just pay the new increased fee, but be fined too.

    Why is it that motorists are seen as the biggest criminals and largest tax target in this country. I think the government should be careful about how we may all react when the straw comes on our camel’s back.

    I agree with you on FoI Act and can’t believe this other opening of government is being closed – we know from PR what that means for us all.

  3. Strangely, when this was posted on our bulletin board in work I didn’t think of it as PR, which is shaming since I’m in the middle of doing the diploma. I was just irritated that the ‘non-working mother’ was dragged out as an example of someone we should all pity. So it didn’t work for me.

    The tone of it was ‘it is our democratic right to drive cheaply’. “On top of this massive increase in tax, you will be tracked. Somebody will know where you are at all times.” Judging by rise of points cards, I’d guess that the tracking would not be an issue if it came with financial reward. It’s a clever way of making you feel like you’re not a skinflint, just socially aware.

    Anyway, I’m off for a hot date with my mother.

  4. Helen – hope the “date” went well. Of course, when you are studying PR, everything in the news can become potentially interesting, especially if you can relate it to theories. This has been relevant in terms of creating active publics – but if you are right and people can be “bought off” to accept tracking, that will tell us something about the population. I fear you are right as this country has never had much of a revolutionary backbone.

  5. I have tried to sign the petition with 2 different email addresses several times and have not got the email through (have looked in junk/spam and not there either). Has this petition been sabotaged by number 10 to prevent more people signing it? Wouldn’t be surprised. Anyone else have this problem.

  6. Ben – I hope you did manage to register your views. I don’t believe in conspiracy (I’m a cock-up believer myself) – the volumes were getting quite high on Monday. As I was teaching crisis management to first year PR students at Bournemouth we were monitoring the uptake during the afternoon – which was very interesting. I’ll be posting more shortly as a result of Tony’s email.

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