As the Revoke Article 50 petition hits 5 million signatures, I’ve been looking around for evidence of bigger petitions.
So is it the biggest in UK campaigning history?
Short answer – Yes.
Longer + caveated answer – I’ve not yet found any evidence of a petition that has had a bigger overall total, but it’s still got some way to go to top the Chartist who got a third of the adult population at the time to sign there petition in 1842 – for contrast the Article 50 petition is at approx. 10% of current adult population of 52,403,344.
++ Updated list on 26th March ++
The top 8 that I’ve come up with are (links are to sources):
- Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU (2018) – 5 million (and growing)
- Ambulance Dispute (1989) – 4.5 million
- EU Referendum Rules triggering a 2nd EU Referendum (2016) – 4,150,262
- Chartist Petition (1842) – 3,300,000
- Jubilee 2000 Petition for Debt Cancellation (1998 – 2000) – 2,960,262
- Scottish Covenant (1947 – 1949) – 2 million
- Prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the United Kingdom (2017) – 1,863,708
- Scrap the planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy (2007) – 1,811,424
For those who are interested a few notes;
- The 1842 Chartist Petition was signed by approximately one in three of the adult population – the logistics of achieving this are amazing.
- A Chartist Petition that was handed over in 1848 with a declared 5.75 million signatures, but upon counting the Commons Committee for Public Petitions found it to contain under 2 million signatures.
- Jubilee 2000 petition was signed by over 24 million globally.
To reach these figures I:
- Reviewed the websites of platforms like 38 Degrees, Change.org and Avaaz, and talking to contacts who work with those
organisations– while it’s possible to recall a number of petitions that have been set up on those sites which have reached towards a million – none have achieved the figures listed above.
- Reviewed the work of History and Policy who worked with Friends of the Earth on a project to capture lessons from campaigns in history, plus the work of the Petitions, Parliament, and People project based at Durham University, which highlights:
- Between 1839 and 1843 more than 17,194 anti-corn law petitions were sent to the House of Commons, containing over 6.2 million signatures.
- Mary Whitehouse’s 1.35 million NVALA petition for public decency in 1973.
- In the 50 years before women gained the vote in 1918, almost 17,000 petitions for women’s suffrage were sent to the House of Commons, containing over 3.3m signatures.
800,000-strongpetition was delivered to Parliament protesting about the sentence of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1834.
- Looked at the data from the three editions of Parliament Petition site (2010 to 2015 Coalition Government, 2015 to 2017 Conservative and current), which lists 1 other petition that has reached over a million signatures, the 2017 Prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the United Kingdom. I’ve looked at what makes a ‘big’ petition on this site before.
It’s also interesting to note that there are some campaigns which saw significant public protest – see here for a full list of biggest protest marches – like the 2 million people who marched against the Iraq War in 2003 but for which there is no evidence of a petition of a similar size set up at the same time.
Please do use the comments section below to suggest other petitions that should be included – I’d love to put together a top 10.