Sunday, 11 September 2011

Looking at UK government e-petitions

The UK government website allows residents to put up petitions for parliament to consider, of their own design. Some are accepted. Some fall foul of the rules about being offensive, irrelevant to parliament, or duplicates of existing petitions. Should a petition get 100,000 signatures or more, then it's considered by a parliamentary panel about whether to be debated (so, no guarantees).

Having started one petition (Knowledge should be free) and promoted another (Support public libraries), I've spent a while looking at the titles of many of the other petitions. Brief conclusions:

And encapsulating all of the above; extremists, both left and right, often don't read the instructions about not creating a duplicate e-petition, but go off and create their own. And the angrier they get, the worse their spelling gets. (Quick tip: if your e-petition is strewn with incorrectly spelt words, then it's not going to be found using the search mechanism)

What else is in the collection of e-petitions? Well, not everyone is angry, thankfully. Some people don't want to drop bombs, while others want to make up with our historical foe. And, there's a couple of e-petitions suggesting national anthems, such as this one or this one.

But there are e-petitions suggesting things should be banned. Lots and lots of things. Some concern bans for things on public transport. A drink? Something to eat? Or how about the transport itself?

And if they can't ban stuff, then they can try and make it more expensive and less affordable. Yes, there's a kind of jealousy that permeates more than a few of these e-petitions, sometimes leading to a bit of paranoia and exaggeration.

And being Britain, the home of dogging and various forms of deviancy, it's little surprise that there are e-petitions about sex. One in particular has links to websites embedded within, which may end up raising the profile of the services the petitioner wants to knock down. Another is by a meanie who is keen (jealous again?) to reduce how much fun people have well into adulthood, while another one is more keen just to never see genitalia again. On a more serious note, this dubious one - which possibly shouldn't have been admitted under the acceptability rules - is straight out of 1880s Britain.

Oh, yet more banning. Jangly things, doing a mainstream activity for more than a few hours, and something you might just have heard of, perhaps, described - perhaps inaccurately - as sparsely used.

Anti-Chen Protest Day 32 - Million Men March

Yes, there's more than a few e-petitions concerning video games and online services. Let's hope the politicians are familiar with these media, as they consider the e-petitions while lounging around in casual clothing up there in the Potteries.

And politicians may be interested, tempted, by some of the elaborate schema thought up by petitioners. Even if Health and Safety legislation will put a massive damper on suggestions such as protect airline passengers against hijack by nerve gassing entire cabin.

Yet more banning. Swearing in public. Flimsy pyjamas in public (are starched ones okay?). Fluffy dice in cars. Fat people - or, at least, financially penalise them.

And more dislike of other people and groups, such as teenagers (there's quite a few like that) and people who read the guardian.

But there are some people who want to make things more easily available. Hurrah for positiveness! Things like Ordnance Survey maps and data, handfastings, Freddos, and erm interesting mushrooms. New denominations are proposed, as are the introduction of chess and erm creationism into the school curriculum. Olde Englishe Ethnicity should be promoted, in the classroom and on signs.

And pies could be made more available - Communist British pies, comrade - by being made by the government.

And through the media of the e-petition, old pop culture favourites return, such as rubbish ski-jumpers and sarcastic puppet shows.

That's a very small selection of those petitions (sometimes) gaining votes. But a lot of petitions have been rejected - over 6,000 so far. Many seem to be because of duplication with other petitions (though this doesn't seem to have stopped there being quite a few legitimate petitions on hanging). And a few of the rejected ones, such as the e-petition to withdraw American independence, are now well-known.

Some, you have to admit, are creative, such as this solution to stopping future riots. Some deal with petitioners freedom to become diabetic, or to keep using online systems that are well beyond their date (dude: let go, and move on), or for their favourite activity to be made even better.

And then there's the male fantasy petitions, such as "Pippa Middleton for UK Olympic Beach Volleyball Team" and the more creepy or stalkerish one from a petitioner who doesn't watch the news for the news. We're not entirely sure of Nick's true intentions, either.

There's hyperlocal petitions, right down to a trash bin and a bus stop and bus routes.

And some people don't like who they see on TV. Actually there's a load of football-related ones in here, ranging from statues to barring specific people from being the referee, from removing embarrassing teams from the Premier League to retaining popular (with some) players at their club.

In fact, television comes up a lot in e-petitions that have been rejected, from reinstating a live feed, to bringing back a particular childrens TV program and a popular challenge show, to adding narrators to popular programmes, giving Noel Gallagher his own show and bringing back the greatest TV programme of all time.

There's a clutch of rejected petitions which deal with enhancements of religions, such as Jedi and Furry. And one clarifying where the Royal Family stand in one particular aspect of religion.

Recent news that a few people in the Outer Hebrides (especially some politicians) took it personally over a "Send the rioters there" petition was interesting, as this was not a unique idea. In possibly the worst case of e-petition spelling ever, one person wants to send them to an island off the south coast of England, while another wants them to go to a boot camp on more northerly islands.


And there's food related e-petitions too. Up with Turkey Twizzlers! Down with Garlic!

And every Englishman's home is his poultry farm. In fact, there's a fair smattering of personal petitions, such as "Help Katie get into University", proposed by, erm, Katie. Who I'm assuming is not this Katie.

There's also philosophy and English Language, and petitions to get words such as "Oooooof!" and "Tapenator" into the dictionary.

What else? A three hour national siesta lunch break. Heavy metal to open the Olympics. And an e-petition so succinct it makes most tweets look textually bloated.

Plus, banning the wearing of pyjamas in public, more alien contact stuff, another spelling/grammar one, making all schoolgirls take the pill, smartening up male TV presenters, bringing the old Facebook chat back, shutting Bono up, dealing with zombies, protecting the rights of crisp eaters - and those of chocolate eaters - banning the most annoying TV advert, giving independence to Hebden Bridge, and helping someone who wants to visit Hogwarts...

And compensation for Londoners for the 2012 Olympics.

And (nearly) finally; some people don't even want the e-petition system any more, explaining that:
We the undersigned believe that online petitions are a substitute for political engagement, and that social networking sites such as Twitter become needlessly and annoyingly clogged with liberals urging each other to sign them.

(...though perhaps liberals would prefer this one.)

My favourites? This one I personally feel is the most worthwhile economic campaign ever ... but it and all others pale in comparison to this, inexplicably rejected, one.

Though perhaps the final word, in e-petitions to the government, should be left to the reassuringly British one created by Joseph Blurton.

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