Petitions – Not worth the electronic paper they are written on

The Normans came over, lance in hand, burning and trampling down every thing before them, and cutting off the Saxon dynasty and the Saxon nobles at the edge of the sword; but the right of petition remained untouched – Caleb Cushing

The petition for banning Donald Trump from a UK state visit, has shot over 1,000,000 signatures in a couple of days. I know this because every news outlet I care to read has it as one of their leading stories, and also I’m getting a stupid amount invites to sign it via Facebook.

I will ignore the requests to sign, just as I do with every single petition I get sent umpteen times a week. I happen to disagree with this particular petition, but that isn’t the reason I wont put a digital signature next to my name.

I don’t bother, because it is a monumental waste of time. A futile endeavour, which is at best a misguided attempt to influence the powers that be, and at worst a screaming yell of virtue signalling of the worst possible calibre.

“Look at me, I signed this petition to stop the evil Donald – Join me and feel like you did something worthwhile in the fight against oppression too! That’s it now, my job is done. I’m back off to continue drinking my kale smoothie and playing squash with Gerald”.

The idea behind the petition to parliament model isn’t bad at all. A vehicle of small scale direct democracy in which us mere peons can tell the chaps running the gaff, that we want action taken on a particular subject. I like that. Or I would if MP’s ever took action on anything substantial that was put to them, and ifthere was a model in which action needed to be taken if enough support was given.

As it stands, all they need to do, is “consider debating it”if you get over 100,000 signatures. This doesn’t usually make it to parliament you understand. It normally takes the form of some government official replying to the petition stating something along the lines of “Whilst there is a lot of support for this petition, we have decided that you are wrong, so its not going to happen. Debate over. Now please stop bothering me, I’m trying to submit my expense claim“.

What actually happens is that MP’s use the petitions to prove some sort of support has been given for a subject in order to push their own, personal political aims. Usually if it’s a nice PC petition it gets tonnes of press coverage and MP’s yell it from the rooftops – Trump ban for example.

If its a bit of a sore subject, the press and MP’s are not quite so vocal. I’m looking at you immigration petition with over 142,000 signatories (although to be fair this one did get debated in parliament….if you can call it a debate).

The largest ever was the one for a 2nd referendum. A whopping 4 million signatures and not one fuck was given. Very sad. Broke my heart.

The referendum petition actually brings up another point. The amount of people signing them are too small to be taken seriously. Sure, 4 million people that signed is a lot. But to take remainers way of working things out, that leaves 60 million that didn’t. And who knows, out of those that gave their digital tick, some of them may not have known what they were signing for, changed their minds, or died in the meantime. I say run the petition again.

Due to the need to do this as a digital signatory, there is also no real vehicle to make sure those that sign are not signing it multiple times, or if they actually reside in the UK even. I would be amazed if the Trump petition isn’t made up of a significant proportion of middle eastern citizens stuck in American airports.

As with anything that has the faintest whiff of direct democracy its half arsed, and doesn’t do the job it should do. A system in which a proportion of verified signatories then triggered a parliamentary vote at worst, or a referendum at best, would be a step in the right direction.

Until then, people will need to actually do something other than sitting on their arses feeling smug about signing a worthless digital whinge. Maybe protest, or lobby, or anything that actually consumes calories.

As for petitions, I guess for now we will have to make do with its current incarnation. There is some fun to be had. I’ve just started one to send Owen Jones to act as a POTUS scribe, as a gift to Donald.

 

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