The British government runs a web site where people can start petitions, and if one gathers more than 100,000 signatures Parliament has to debate the issue. That sounds meaningful until you realize that the promise is to debate, not to do anything. And then you remember that most of the time those green benches in the House of Commons are as empty as our local beach during a January storm.
I have a hunch most of those debates are stunningly short.
But as a way of making people feel engaged, the site is inspired and people use it. So let’s check in and see what’s on the British public’s mind.
Some of the topics are predictable and some are even sensible. Whatever your beliefs, you’ll find something there to cheer you up, something to depress the hell out of you, and a fair bit to confirm whatever stereotypes you hold. (Yes, folks, Britain is a nation of animal lovers. Especially, from what I can tell, of cats.)
But where’s the fun in that? Let’s look at the unpredictable petitions.
One petition demands that police dogs and horses be granted the status of police officers. It has over 123,000 signatures, so let’s stop and think this through a bit in case Parliament doesn’t. What happens if they are elevated to that august status? Do they get pensions? Are able arrest us? Do they get in trouble for ignoring their paperwork the way half the TV detectives do?
Do we have to address them as officer? “Would you like a nice bowl of water, officer?”
Do they have to wear uniforms? Are they eligible for promotions?
A second petition wants “to change the name the UK government uses for IS, ISIS and ISIL to Daesh.”
That’ll show ’em. It has over 19,000 signatures.
A third demands that someone or other enforce mandatory drug tests on all Members of Parliament, and I’m tempted to sign it just for the joy of annoying the folks who have the power to make other people take mandatory drug tests. I mean, c’mon, being an MP is a responsible job.
It has over 8,000 signatures.
A fourth wants to change all newly issued passport covers to blue. They were once blue, apparently, back when everything was as it should still be but isn’t. At a time when so many people are yelling about taking their country back, getting the passports right should fix it. It has over 4,000 signatures.
Which reminds me to note that the people who want their country back never say who took it or where they hid it, but if anyone sees a stray country, send it back, would you? To either Britain or the U.S., depending, I guess, on how big it is.
But back to petitions. It turns out that you can’t just put any old petition on the web site. You’ll find the real fun on the list of rejected petitions, including the following:
“Ask Kate Bush to release the footage of her before the Dawn Live shows.”
“Bring back the television programme ‘Spitting Image’ ”
“Rhys Powell for England manager”
“Expropriate the bourgeoisie”
“Bring Barak Obama to the U.K.”
“A cashpoint is needed in Cardiff Retail Park, Llanishen”
“Invite Barack Obama to become the UK prime minster”
If you click on any of the rejects, you’ll find that someone’s explained why it didn’t make the cut. Take “expropriate the bourgeoisie.” Some actual human being wrote, “It’s not clear what the petition is asking the UK Government or Parliament to do.”
Well, to expropriate the bourgeoisie, silly. Admittedly, as political manifestos go, this one’s a little thin, but Parliament wasn’t going to go for it anyway and I can understand the writer thinking, Why waste time providing a plan?
So I could quibble with the decision on this one, but the point is, friends, that someone goes through the splatter of Britain’s political awareness and its un- and semi-conscious and thinks about it all long enough to accept or reject and explain. I admit, they wouldn’t have to think deeply and the explanations are standardized, but still, it’s oddly soothing to think that a human being reads all this.
The Guardian, where I first heard about these lists, included out a few choice rejectees in its article. Its reporter either had more time than I did or a better system of going through them.
Someone wants to make Motorhead’s (I’m missing an umlaut over the second O, but it’s decorative anyway; English doesn’t use the umlaut, and 98% of the English-speaking world doesn’t even know what one is). Let’s start over: Someone wants to make Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” the official national anthem.
Who knew the country doesn’t already have a national anthem? I thought it was “God Save the Queen.” Or King, depending on time, place, and circumstance. For plan B, the petitioner proposes the theme song from the long-running and you-can’t-get-more-British (or possibly English; I’m not sure) radio Soap The Archers.
Someone else submitted—and I quote—“I believe that McDonald’s owes me a free milkshake.” And I’m sure it does. It owes me an apology for the alleged salad I bought there once.
And one more: “It is about time we changed the plural of sheep from sheep to sheeps.”
I tell you, if Parliament won’t take action on that, it’s hard to say who citizens can turn to with their troubles.
Mary had two little sheeps Their fleeces white as snows And everywhere that Mary went Her sheeps were embarrassed to be seen with her.