Petitioning Parliament: What does Britain truly care about?

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.

Irrelevant and moody photo of an empty bench

Irrelevant and moody photo of an empty bench and a sky that’s disappeared. Don’t complain, please. I’m a writer, not a photographer. Or–oh, go ahead and complain. If enough of you do, I’ll debate the issue.

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.

68 thoughts on “Petitioning Parliament: What does Britain truly care about?

  1. I’ve come to the conclusion that the British national anthem is truly awful. It really is about time we replaced it. I think The Archers theme tune would do nicely. It’s nice and jolly, and it has no words, so no one has to remember them – handy for the politicians at public events.
    (For US readers, The Archers is the world’s longest-running radio soap opera, and it’s broadcast every weekday on BBC Radio 4 with an omnibus edition on Sundays – podcast here.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Longest running and, to a newcomer, most baffling. When Wild Thing and I first started hearing snatches of it (always when we were in the car), we were left wondering why someone was always decorating the damned church.

      What about “Jerusalem”? It’s beautiful, it’s moving, the words are by Blake, and it’s got a lethal key change somewhere in the middle. Who could ask for more?

      Like

        • You do. It’s the only way to manage the key change and the reason I struggle with it: By the time I moved here, tea came in flimsy cardboard boxes. Try standing on one of those to change key. It just doesn’t work.

          I know, I know, some people would blame the flimsiness of their musical education or their own incompetence, but not me. I know a systemic national problem when I see it.

          Liked by 1 person

      • The problem with “Jerusalem” is that it only refers to England, so may annoy the Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish, various islanders, and possibly Mabion Kernow (you probably know more about that last than I do).

        Also there are few “dark Satanic mills” around these days, and “among these boring concrete retail parks” doesn’t scan well metrically.

        Also, wouldn’t the Israelis kick up a commotion if we were to attempt to tranship Jerusalem stone by stone away from its usual location? I think they would. It would certainly confuse its current occupants.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I notice that the only actual success highlighted on the Wikipedia entry for an ‘Online Petition’ (not saying that others haven’t been successful) is “Recently, several petitions on Change.org have been attributed to the reversal of a United Airlines Dog Policy”.
    This animal-loving thing is going worldwide apparently.

    Like

    • It’s not that I don’t love animals–we have two dogs and a cat–but of all the things that need fixing in this battered old world… It’s not that I don’t think it matters, it’s just that it’s so much safer to work ourselves up about cute animals than about deeper problems.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am totally on-board with ‘sheeps’ instead of the more clandestine sheep – I mean, what does that really mean? I once wrote about telling my dog “we have to wipe those feets” before letting her in the house. I’m in favor of plural sounding plurals.

    My wife would probably sign the petition for the Archers theme song to have, at a minimum, some additional status. Our friend in Ipswich got her hooked on The Archers years ago.

    For the record, I think we (at least locally) do give our K-9 officers the title “Officer” – At least that’s how they are talked about in the newspaper, and, I think the penalties for assaulting a K-( are the same as for assaulting a human officer. Last I checked, they aren’t allowed to carry weapons.

    Also, if England is truly lost, you can have New Jersey. It might need some trimming, but I think it would fit.

    Finally, or do you folks say ‘lastly’ – I would point out that your irrelevant photo is actually relevant. You spoke of “empty benches” but it was earlier and I assume you forgot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 1. Wild Thing says thanks for the offer of New Jersey but she was hoping for North Dakota. She hasn’t explained her preferences and I’m afraid to ask.

      2. You’re right about the empty bench(es). That’s really upsetting. I promise people an irrelevant photo and it turns out I’m lying. Even to myself.

      3. I’m not sure about lastly. Probably not–I think I’d have noticed if people were using it, because it’s one of those usages I have a minor-league grudge against.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Haha! Love the lil poem.
    It’s not that causes aren’t fantastic, they are, and people should get invested about their passionate feelings, but I do so sit in judgment of people who are worried about the state of passport color as compared to, let’s say, the state of HUMAN BEINGS.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, Ellen, this was a delightful read! I found myself chuckling in various places. There is an internet site called Change.org that evidently exists for the express purpose of petitions. I am quite certain parliament is probably just as effective as our senate. You are correct in assuming that a petition would get debated in those hallowed halls and that is all that would be done about it. Never mind the fact that the UK is dealing with unrest just like the US. Both countries want to find their greatness again. I didn’t know it was lost. I do know that maybe Scotland Yard or the FBI over here can assist with that issue. They excel at locating missing persons, etc. A country should be no problem.
    Meanwhile the important petitions are about changing the national anthem. Of course Motorhead is an excellent choice! Lemmy was a role model for everyone. I guess that person neglected to mention a runner up. Perhaps the Sex Pistols would do with “God Save the Queen” or “Anarchy in the UK.” It is all about choices.
    It would be highly entertaining if they would broadcast one of those petition sessions. That would be top telly, I’m sure. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe it’s wrong to insist that a country have only one national anthem. If we had, say, half a dozen for each country, the minute someone says, “And now, the national anthem,” everyone could launch into whatever one suits them best, preferably at the top of their lungs. That would make people feel involved in the democratic process too, don’t you think? And it would be perfectly useless.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Considering the recent results in the USA, I was starting – horrors! – to question the validity of Democracy. This right to petition Parliament is reassuring: not all is lost if we just hold on to tamer version of letting citizens participate in the process of government :) And doing away with irregular plurals would be a great move to encourage more English-challenged tourists to visit the UK once you’ve all taken your country back.

    Like

  7. Thank you for educating on this. I had no idea one could start a petition and it be discussed after enough signatures. You raise very thoughtful questions. Im sure it was rehetorical about the police dogs and horses but just wanted to throw a thought out there….im THINKING that if they are considered actual police, then, if during a crime, the bad guy injures the dog, the penalty would be more harsh because he injured a “police” dog. Just a thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Possibly. I’d guess, from the number of signatures the petition got, that there was a serious campaign behind it–and possibly even some serious thought. And I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that I’ve been completely unfair about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. People want such strange things. Blue covers on passports? That’s really gonna make such a difference to the world!
    And I dunno know about Barack Obama being the British Prime Minister but I can think of a good few British politicians I’d love to ship out to… well, anywhere, really.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Reblogged this on Annas Art – FärgaregårdsAnna and commented:
    Now I get why our local politicians say no to a suggestion to provide the citizens a possibility to send e-petitions. They say the system cost to much money, but on the same meeting they will decide of a much more costing big new road that we don’t need. But Ellens post makes it all clear. Our politicians don’t want to have fun at work! Read her post and you will understand what I mean. For comments, visit original post. Anna

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t, your honor. I swear. Every one of those petitions in straight from the web site–with the exceptions of the ones that were quoted in the Guardian, which would only make up stories on April Fool’s Day. (Making up stories on April Fool’s Day is standard journalistic practice here, and the game is to figure out which one’s made up. At least that’s the reader’s side of the game. The journalists’ side is to make up something that’s believable enough in its absurdity that they slide it past at least some people. These days its getting harder and harder to figure out what’s made up.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gee, that sounds weirdly familiar…the Washington Post comes to mind. (-:
        Your blog is getting better and better.

        Sorry for my delayed response. My spine has ended me up in a nursing home. It’s supposed to be for just a few months, though. The only fun thing so far is that being middle-aged here is like being a kid.
        Wah! Bring me some chocolate pudding! I’m watching cartoons.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Is it really getting better? Coming from you, I take that seriously. Thanks.

          A nursing home? That sounds both reassuring–at least you’re okay–and horrifying that it’s that bad. I don’t know what to say beyond that you have my love and that if I could come see you I would, and I’m sure I’d be a pain in the ass. To someone.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Christmas carols as folk music | Notes from the U.K.

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