Labour and a major Remain campaign have followed up a viral petition calling on the government not to suspend parliament by launching their own versions – a move described by experts as a “data-gathering exercise” ahead of a possible general election.
A petition on the government website calling on Boris Johnson not to prorogue parliament went viral after the prime minister announced his request to suspend parliament, gaining more than a million signatures in 24 hours.
Shortly after it began to grow in popularity, The Labour Party and the People’s Vote campaign for a second EU referendum launched versions of the same petition.
In an email to its mailing list, Labour called on people to “Sign our petition demanding that the prime minister doesn’t close down parliament, and close down democratic debate”, linking to a petition that said: “Tell the Tories: don’t shut down parliament.”
The People’s Vote campaign urged people to “Stop Boris Johnson shutting down parliament”.
The Labour petition currently has more than 93,000 signatures and The People’s Vote more than 58,000.
Experts on digital campaigns told Sky News the petitions, which ask for a name, email address and postcode, were most likely designed to gather data from likely voters, which can be used to target adverts more effectively
“It’s a data-gathering exercise,” said Elliot Jones, a researcher at think tank Demos.
“Pretty much every petition by a political party seems to be primarily to collect names, emails, addresses to target people with messages later.”
“They’re just looking for some of the reflected glory from the gov.uk one,” said Sam Jeffers, founder of WhoTargetsMe, a non-profit organisation which tracks political ads online.
“They clearly think this is an opportunity to get quick or cheap sign-ups, which could prove useful just before a likely election.”
WhoTargetsMe found that Labour was promoting its petition with ads on Facebook, spending around £300 on ads that reached around 15,000 people.
A Labour Party spokesperson told Sky News: “Labour is leading the campaign against the Conservatives shutting down Parliament, using various campaigning methods, including this petition.”
A People’s Vote spokesperson said: “Our petition offers people a way to express their anger at the attempt to force an undemocratic no-deal Brexit on the country without the consent of the people.
“We cannot use the details people give us to contact them unless they give us their explicit permission.
“If they do, though, we do encourage them to do much more than sign a petition – for instance we are building for a massive demonstration on 19 October.”The online campaigning group 38 Degrees also has a petition, with more than 210,000 signatures, calling on the government not to prorogue parliament.
However, this was launched in July as part of a campaign to stop a no-deal Brexit.
A 38 Degrees spokesperson said its petition was not in competition with the petition on the government website, adding: “Our own technology enables people to do much more than sign a petition – tell their friends, contact their MP and more.
“After people sign this petition, they are immediately invited to contact their MP to share their views about a no-deal Brexit – doubling the impact their voice can have.”
The Liberal Democrats pointed people towards the petition on the official government website – albeit at the end of an email asking for donations from supporters.
If the signatures from the Labour, 38 Degrees and People’s Vote petitions were added to the petition on the government website it would have more than 1.8 million signatures, rather than its current total of around 1.45 million.