England

Donald Trump visit: What petitions say about your area

Donald Trump Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Petitions are being debated both for and against Donald Trump's planned state visit to the UK

MPs will later debate two petitions about the state visit of US President Donald Trump, but what do online polls and their signatories say about the UK?

Millions of people have "signed" online petitions calling on Parliament to do everything from bring in rules for a second EU referendum to introducing a Meningitis B vaccine for all children.

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BBC England's data unit found there were 17 parts of the UK where the number of people taking part was consistently higher than elsewhere.

Eight of the 17 were London constituencies. All but two have Labour MPs.

The constituencies, and the party of their MP, were:

  • Bristol West (Labour)
  • Brighton, Pavilion (Green)
  • Islington North (Labour)
  • Hornsey and Wood Green (Labour)
  • Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Labour)
  • Hackney South and Shoreditch (Labour)
  • Bethnal Green and Bow (Labour)
  • Holborn and St Pancras (Labour)
  • Hove (Labour)
  • Cambridge (Labour)
  • Manchester, Withington (Labour)
  • Lewisham, Deptford (Labour)
  • Edinburgh North and Leith (SNP)
  • Oxford East (Labour)
  • Sheffield Central (Labour)
  • Tottenham (Labour)
  • Manchester Central (Labour)

Some critics of petitions suggest they are in danger of becoming symbols of protest rather than effective instruments of change.

Stephen Coleman, professor of political communication at the University of Leeds, said: "We should be very concerned about how representative these petitions are.

"If they are only empowering the usual people who vote and participate in other ways, they will exacerbate the gap between the political efficacy of the already active and the limited influence of the least confident."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Donald Trump received an invitation from Theresa May to make a state visit to the UK

But Darren Hughes, deputy chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said petitions were an effective way of engaging with people who would not normally be interested in politics.

"The more ways to engage the better, and while there always going to be places that sign petitions more than others, that's normal, and millions of people are using this tool right across the county," he said.

"What would be a positive change would be for these petitions to encourage some further engagement - if the site asked them to register to vote, get more involved in politics, and follow more closely the work of Parliament."

How we crunched the numbers

We focussed on the top ten most popular petitions.

The same 17 constituencies were in the top 10% of signatures in six of the most popular petitions since Parliament launched a website in July 2015.

Where they were not in the top 10, it was mainly because the other petitions were calling for the opposite of the other petitions they had signed.

For the most popular Parliament petition of all time, calling for a second referendum on leaving the European Union, 17 of the 65 constituencies that signed it the most were also in the top 10% for:

  • Prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the United Kingdom.
  • Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK.
  • Consider a vote of No Confidence in Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary
  • Make the production, sale and use of cannabis legal.
  • Vote no on military action in Syria against IS in response to the Paris attacks

We excluded an earlier petition demanding Donald Trump be banned from visiting the UK altogether and another petition about Jeremy Hunt as the issues were too similar to others.

Getting your voice heard

How does a petition get discussed?

100,000

signatures for MPs to consider a debate in Parliament

10,000

signatures for the government to formally respond

  • 11 MPs on the Petitions Committee

  • 6 months is how long petitions stay open for signatures

  • Only British citizens or UK residents are allowed to sign

Thinstock

However, they were not in the top 10% for petitions calling for:

  • Give the Meningitis B vaccine to ALL children, not just newborn babies.
  • Stop all immigration and close the UK borders until ISIS is defeated.
  • Donald Trump should make a State Visit to the United Kingdom.
  • Stop spending a fixed 0.7 per cent slice of our national wealth on Foreign Aid

Taking the most popular petitions, Brighton Pavilion, represented by Green MP Caroline Lucas, has the highest median rate of signatures as a % of its population.

BBC News found no correlation between the proportion of people signing petitions and turnout in the 2015 General Election.

Northern Ireland constituencies made up the majority of the 10 constituencies with the lowest rates of signing petitions. They included three of the four Sinn Féin MPs, who do not take their seats in the House of Commons.

The other Sinn Féin constituency, Belfast West, comes 601st out of 650 areas for signing petitions.

Brie Rogers Lowery, UK director of campaign website Change.org, said online petitions would play a prominent role in shaping local, national and global politics.

"This is how society expresses its views in the 21st Century and it's important that politicians engage with them meaningfully," she said.

MPs are debating the two petitions about the US President's visit at 16:30 GMT.

Additional research by Ioana Dumitrescu.

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