If you’re a regular user of social media, the chances are you’ve seen loads of petitions. Maybe you’ve signed a few of them yourself. You can’t escape the fucking things. Signing petitions can, at times, seem like either a pointless chore or become a full-time job. There are so many damned petitions. But there are petitions that are perfectly reasonable and worth signing, and there are petitions that are, well, so utterly stupid that you have to question the intelligence and the motivation of the petitioner.
A few useless petitions have caught The Cat’s eye for their sheer stupidity, but the most prominent ones are those that express ignorance of how parliament works. Take for example the petition that was addressed to the Queen, and which asks her to demand a vote of no confidence in the government. Yes, I know it’s laughable.
First, the Queen doesn’t intervene in such matters, for to do so would break with the centuries old tradition of parliamentary sovereignty. It’s all there in the the constitution. Yes, that’s the supposedly unwritten constitution that has its origins in the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 (it was a palace coup for crying out loud) and the Bill of Rights (1689). Second, censure motions can only be instigated by opposition parties and for such a motion to succeed, the party drafting the motion needs to ensure there are numbers in its favour. This is currently not the case.
The government presently has a working majority of 16 – excluding the Speaker, who exercises a casting vote in the event of a tie. The Democratic Unionists, Ulster Unionists, Sylvia Hermon (independent Unionist) and maybe the Blairites, would be most likely to vote with the government. So a no confidence motion has been defeated even before it can get off the ground.
“Ah, but it’s showing them our discontent” I hear you protest. Well, so what? They know we’re not happy with them but this exercise is futile. Your time would be better spent doing something else.
So what are your options?
Well, you can write to the Prime Minister directly but that’s not going to get anywhere either. In the unlikely event that she, herself, replied to you, what would she say? “Dear [insert name] The government is committed to enriching our class and we don’t give a shit what you think?”. No, they’re going to tell you how great they are and will blind you with cherry-picked statistics and sophisms.
You could write to the leaders of the opposition party. Again, good luck with that one. How about writing to your MP? Nope – especially if your MP is in the governing party. So what can you do? Well, you could go on marches and attend rallies or you could take direct action instead. You could join a political party or become a community activist too. There are plenty of campaigns to join.
Petitions of the kind I mentioned are really nothing more than a form of carnivalesque, which allow the signatories a fleeting moment of imaginary power. Yeah! I really stuck one to the man, man! I signed a petition!
The announcement of the forthcoming state visit of Donald Trump to Britain spurred the creation of two petitions. One was opposed to the visit and the other was in support of it. It’s the one in support of Trump’s visit that’s been created, not for any genuinely noble or sensible reasons but, instead, as a misguided metric of his popularity among the so-called ‘alt-right’.
If the petition in favour is a gauge of Trump’s popularity, then the opposing petition trounces it several times over. At the time of writing, the petition against stood at 1.8 million people as opposed to the petition for, which stands at a mere 300, 000 and has been rejected. It was never going to attract more than a few thousand.
The petition against Trump’s visit was always going to be more popular and because of that, it will be debated in parliament. The creators of the pro petition needn’t have bothered. The matter was always going to be debated without it. Surely that was the point all along? to have the matter debated? Apparently not, if you’re in support of Trump’s visit.
Are petitions any use? Of course they are, but on their own, they’re of limited value. Just remember, it helps to know what you’re signing and why. It’s also a good idea to read up on how parliament works before signing some stupid petition demanding a vote of no confidence in the government.