Campaigners who want to reintroduce hanging, oppose higher taxes for motorists, pull out of the EU, or any of the other causes overlooked by politicians have been promised by David Cameron that they can have their day in Parliament.
Under a Conservative government, 100,000 signatures on a petition will be enough to guarantee a debate in the House of Commons. A million signatures will give the organisers the right to put legislation in front of the Commons which MPs will have to vote on.
One of the first groups to seize on Mr Cameron's offer was the UK Independence Party, which claimed it would have "no trouble" collecting a million signatures to try to pull Britain out of the EU.
Mr Cameron, speaking yesterday at East London University on how to rebuild trust in politics, argued that as well as cleaning up Parliament, politicians have to find ways to engage people more in the political process.
He added: "It's absurd that a tiny percentage of the population craft legislation that will apply to 100 per cent of the population. Instead of locking people out of this process, we need to invite them in.
"So we'll create a right of initiative nationally, where any petition that collects 100,000 signatures will be eligible to be formally debated in the House of Commons. Any petition with a million signatures will allow members of the public to table a Bill that could end up being debated and voted on by MPs."
This opens the near-certain prospect that if the Tories win the election, MPs will have to debate a Bill on whether to pull out of the EU. Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, said: "We welcome this proposal, and if he stands by this, and a million signatures is what is required, we'll get the financial backing to organise a petition – no trouble."
MPs are also likely to find themselves having to debate whether to bring back hanging, which has not been formally debated in Parliament since May 1998, when the Commons voted to accept a clause in the European Convention on Human Rights outlawing capital punishment except in times of emergency.
There was an indication of how easily a campaign to bring back hanging could pick up the necessary 100,000 signatures in February 2008, when The Sun invited readers to vote in a poll: 99 per cent of the 95,000 respondents were in favour.
Since Downing Street introduced a facility to create online petitions under Tony Blair, there have been seven that have attracted over 100,000 signatures, one of which – a petition against the Government's proposal to consider bringing in road pricing – attracted 1.8 million in three months.
The Tories said they would stop multiple signatories from the same computer, but it was unclear how the ubiquitous "M. Mouse" and "Hugh Organ" could be barred.
* Joanne Cash, the Conservative candidate for the Westminster North seat at the election, has resigned from her post amid reports of “internal tensions” in the local party. Ms Cash resigned last night at a special meeting in her constituency. The seat, which has a projected Labour majority of 3,021, is the Tories’ number 75 target. A Tory spokesman confirmed the resignation but added that it would evaluate the decision today.
Signing up: Popular causes
Downing Street e-petitions have turned into a rough guide to the sort of causes that have support in the tens and hundreds of thousands. They were introduced halfway through Tony Blair's premiership, but only really took off after campaigners used this device to organise opposition to a government proposal to tax motorists by the mile.
The most popular Downing Street petitions, and the number of signatures they attracted, are:
*No to road pricing: 1,811,424
*Create a Remembrance Day bank holiday in November: 531,400
*Allow the Red Arrows to fly at the 2012 Olympics: 502,625
*Reduce fuel duty: 304,641
*Ban the construction of a "mega mosque": 281,882
*Scrap inheritance tax: 128,622
*Create a dedicated military and veterans hospital: 113,979
*Don't scrap childcare vouchers: 93,626
*Make Jeremy Clarkson prime minister: 49,457Reuse content