A new government website called Your Freedom was launched today, offering members of the public the opportunity to voice their ideas and comments to reduce pointless regulation and unnecessary bureaucracy. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg explained how this provides a real chance for the public to influence government policy:
It’s a totally new way of making policy. A totally new way of putting you in charge.
Announcing the initiative on his YouTube channel, Clegg encouraged the public to get involved and tell the government if they feel their rights have been infringed :
Be demanding of your liberty. Be insistent about your rights.
Every time you have had to fill out three versions of the same form, tell us about it. Every time you have felt snooped on by the state, tell us about it. Every unnecessary law, every mind-numbing rule, every time your rights have been infringed – now is the time to tell us about it.
The Your Freedom project asks citizens three questions:
- Which regulations do you think should be removed or changed to make running your business or organisation as simple as possible?
- Which offences do you think we should remove or change and why?
In his video address Clegg cautioned that the government would not be able to respond to every suggestion – the site already crashed due to heavy traffic, and received 2,000 ideas in the first day – but he promised that every comment would at least be read.
The site explains that its part of the Programme for Government and its aim to ‘create a more open and less intrusive society through the restoration of Britain’s traditions of freedom and fairness’. The site allows the public to submit, comment on, or vote for ideas on how to “free our society of unnecessary laws and regulations – both for individuals and businesses.”
Users of the site will be able to comment on and rate their favourite ideas and relevant departments will then respond to the most popular workable ideas.:
Your ideas will inform government policy and some of your proposals could end up making it into bills we bring before Parliament to change the law.
So if there are any laws or regulations you’d like us to do away with, then submit your idea. If you see ideas here already that you like the look of, then rate them and get them moved up the list. And if there’s more you’d like to say, then talk to others in the comments section for each proposal.
The views expressed through the site will be taken into account in the Freedom Bill later this year.
The site has already received a wide range of ideas, including as Simon Jeffery notes, calls to legalise cannabis and magic mushrooms. These topics also appeared prominently in US Open Government dialogue last year, but are unlikely to be seriously considered by a Conservative led government.
Clegg’s claims that this initiative represents “a totally new way of making policy”, however, could be countered by Labour’s highly successful Downing Street petition website launched in 2006. It is described as the:
largest non-partisan democracy site by volume of users ever, with over 8m signatures from over 5m unique email addresses, representing something like 10% of the entire UK population.
Jeffery notes some cynicism about the site launch on twitter:
When @GdnPolitics asked its Twitter followers what they thought about the Clegg initiative, replies came back along the lines of “I’m disappointed. I thought it was going to be a campaign to liberate Clegg from this ridiculous pseudo-coalition” or “FREE THE SHEFFIELD ONE“. When the question was re-phrased, people were still cynical. “A few token gestures to compensate for the coming pain, always goes down well…reminds me of the dentist’s lollipop,” said one.
This month has now seen the coalition’s launch two interesting online exercises – this, and the one asking public sector workers for ideas on ways to reduce government spending. Your Freedom seeks to build on the Conservative election pledge to try to open up the legislative process through providing citizens with an easy means to input into proposed policy. This is not without risks, however. Ideas on legalising soft drugs are already some of the most popular suggestions on the site. If these prove to generate the most comments and approval, then the Government’s response will be an interesting test of how to manage online citizen feedback where diverges with government policy.
- Your Freedom
- Guardian article on Your Freedom launch
- ‘is [Your Freedom] the silliest new govt website or the most inspired?’
- BBC Newsnight discussion on Your Freedom