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Join our petition now


Do it right now.

Well, read this column first then do it. Go to http: // petitions. pm. and sign our petition to ensure that civil engineers are included in the proposed new independent planning commission.

Yes, I know I rubbished this form of democracy not so long ago, when 1.8M signatures were gathered in objection to road user charging. And yes, I know I said that no-one signing a petition should expect too much to happen in return.

Well, I've changed my mind.

If George Bush can do it over climate change then so can I over petitions. They're a great idea - so get on and sign.

But like Mr Bush, I'd like to clarify precisely what I've changed my mind on. What I mean is that I've changed my mind about whether or not these petitions are a worthwhile use of time effort and web-space.

I now think that they are - but only as a great way to develop solidarity, generate passion and to unite likeminded people with pride behind a common cause.

It doesn't matter, but I still think that the resulting poll, regardless of turnout, will in reality make little difference to the democratic process or in fact change anyone's beliefs on an issue. In fact the reverse may even be true After all, when it comes to people and their beliefs, the worst thing that you can do is try to convince them otherwise with a well-constructed argument. It just doesn't work.

You have only to look at our current - and historic - political system for the evidence. How often do we see our leaders emerging from a lengthy and detailed debate and declare 'I listened to the debate and it changed my mind'?

The answer is very rarely.

Instead we have a situation where, for fear of being labelled as weak minded, positions can only ever be allowed to become more, not less, entrenched. We prefer our leaders to have a view on everything and that they stick to it.

But the rules are not just reserved for politicians - we are as keen on such polarity of mind in our private lives. And how often have you listened to someone else's opposing view on a matter held dear to you and felt able to say 'do you know what, I've changed my mind'. Be honest - not often.

It seems that for most of us going back to revisit and revise our beliefs is not something that we fi nd easy, possible or even desirable. Being forced to through weight of argument is even harder to bear.

And I'm no different. So while I'm not going to change my thinking - or stop trying to change other people thinking - on issues such as the folly of pursuing new nuclear or the need to work hard to tackle climate change, I am prepared to bend slightly over Number 10 petitions.

Regardless of what happens to the result, I want engineers to feel good about presenting regular, serious issues to government - not least as a way to highlight to ourselves the value that we bring to society.

So ignore my previous advice.

Log on to http: // gov. uk/NCEplanning/ and sign our petition.

You will of course have to make this decision freely yourself so first read this week's copy of NCE to absorb the scale and breadth of our profession's expertise.

After all, changing other people's views is hard enough - particularly if we haven't even yet properly convinced ourselves.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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