UK Politics: The Petition Delusion

I recently fell victim to the latest scam put forward by the UK government; I believe they are copying a system already set up across the pond in the US: A petition system. Here in the UK, this new system claims that by collecting signatures, you can cause great positive change within parliament. What should be a forward-thinking idea to help our democracy is more like one of those games that are common now in pubs where you have to earn a certain number of points to win a prize.

However, once you get those points it is revealed that you have to do a second task (one which has the same difficulty level as finding the Holy Grail) to actually win your money. The simplicity of starting your own petition only adds to its appeal as a wondrous new toy for wannabe revolutionaries to play with. If you collect 10,000 signatures, the government will respond to your petition with a statement. 100,000 signatures and your petition will be discussed in parliament. Sound good? Unfortunately it’s not that simple.

 It All Started with Weed!

You see, when I say I fell victim to this petition system, I mean it. As an avid supporter of weed legalisation, I was ecstatic at how many signatures a petition for that very topic received. I even had the page constantly open on Google on my phone and I checked that page more regularly than anything else in my life. By the time I signed it, there were already over 100,000 signatures and it didn’t take long for than number to double.

Each time I checked, I would look first at how many signatures we were up to, then down at whether the government had A) Responded and B) Set a debate date. I can’t remember exactly how much time passed before the government issued a response. I do remember that I had already sent the petition link to everyone who knew I smoked weed and most of them were as excited as I was.

We discussed how easy it would be to get weed, all the different strains we could try, how nights out would change so dramatically to accommodate this marvellous drug…sadly, this was all very short lived and as the government issued their response, my heart sank at how doomed this petition already was.

The Response

“The latest evidence from the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is that the use of cannabis is a significant public health issue (‘Cannabis Classification and Public Health’, 2008).

 Cannabis can unquestionably cause harm to individuals and society. Legalisation of cannabis would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families.

 Legalisation would also send the wrong message to the vast majority of people who do not take drugs, especially young and vulnerable people, with the potential grave risk of increased misuse of drugs. 

Despite the potential opportunity offered by legalisation to raise revenue through taxation, there would be costs in relation to administrative, compliance and law enforcement activities, as well as the wider costs of drug prevention and health services.

 The UK’s approach on drugs remains clear: we must prevent drug use in our communities; help dependent individuals through treatment and wider recovery support; while ensuring law enforcement protects society by stopping the supply and tackling the organised crime that is associated with the drugs trade. The Government will build on the Drugs Strategy by continuing to take a balanced and coherent approach to address the evolving challenges posed.

There are positive signs that the Government’s approach is working: there has been a long term downward trend in drug use over the last decade, and more people are recovering from their dependency now than in 2009/10. The number of adults aged 16-59 using cannabis in the last year in England and Wales has declined over the last decade from 9.6% to 6.7%, with cannabis use amongst young adults aged 16-24 and young people aged 11-15 following a similar pattern.”

-Home Office

Run Up to the Debate!

I discuss this topic in more depth in one of my other blog posts so I won’t poke holes in this response (although I would like to point out that the fact they think the drug war is working, shows just how misguided they really are).

The next stage in this petition process is the debate. On the run up to the debate, I began to become hopeful again. Maybe, just maybe we can create a compelling enough argument for something to change. Polls from various newspapers and websites showed a clear winner. I mean even the Daily Mail (which I don’t read for oh so many reasons) showed a poll results of 80% of people being in favour of legalising it. Reading through comments on different news sites, I realised that the biggest reason people were against weed, was due to the government.

One comment I saw stated “I don’t think people should smoke weed because it’s illegal for a reason.” As my anticipation of a positive result grew, I e-mailed the MP for my local area (who will remain nameless despite the fact he replied with a generic e-mail that A) referenced outdated studies and B) didn’t actually acknowledge any of the points I raised) asking him to attend the debate, because here is yet another issue with this system: MP’s have no obligation to turn up.

That’s right! This means that issues that don’t appeal to MPs can just be ignored if they feel like not going shows their lack of interest in the topic.

The Debate!

Finally, the debate date arrived and I sat eagerly waiting for the Parliament website to begin streaming the video. The majority of those discussing the topic appeared to be in favour of revising the current drugs laws in relation to weed…this was largely due to the fact that only 5 or so people actually turned up (not including the small audience…and funnily enough my MP was not one of them) and while they did put forward great arguments in relation to weed, these were ultimately meaningless as the fear mongering by one of the opposing MPs (who also used outdated studies and mentioned statistics that have already been shown to be inaccurate representations of damage caused by weed) was enough for the debate to end with no plans for revision.

Now you are likely imagining that I’m viewing this from a bias point of view because obviously if I’m supporting weed legalisation I’d be annoyed with such an outcome. So let me sum up the debate with one single moment:

The guy who was arguing against weed legalisation was asked one simple question “why should cannabis be legal when alcohol, a drug considered more dangerous, is perfectly legal?” (this is unlikely to be exactly how it was worded but it was the same general question) and the man responded with possibly the most naïve statement I’ve ever heard on the topic “Well I don’t believe there is actually any evidence to suggest that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis”. I wasn’t the only one who found this response ridiculous, the entire room burst into laughter at his reply. I believe this was largely due to a study released just last year that suggested that alcohol is 114x more dangerous than weed (if you’re interested in reading it, there is a link on my other weed post).

Back to the Petition System Sham!

So you may be wondering what all this has to do with this petition system being a clever tactic thought up by the government. Well, that leads me to today. A petition had been started not too long ago to discuss the idea of banning Donald Trump from the UK based on a comment he made about Muslims. Now, I’m sure none of us actually believed that Donald Trump would get banned. I mean if we banned everyone who made a controversial comment; the UK would lose half its population. Keep in mind that England is home to the EDL (English Defence League) which is essentially just a group of bald, racist thugs. We have the right to free speech and that right still stands, even when people make comments that we may not agree with. Anyway, I decided to take a quick skim through the transcript from the “Ban Donald Trump” debate, just out of curiosity. Reading the final paragraph caused the lightbulb above my head to explode. Two parts of this final paragraph are what led to me typing this rant:

Firstly:The triumph of today is that we have had a debate, that has been seen by many people outside, including in the United States, and they have seen Parliament at its very best. We have had a diverse debate from a diverse Parliament.”

Secondly: “I believe that all that has been said today will enhance the standing of this Parliament and reinforce our relationship with our great ally, the United States

So let us take a quick look at that first point: “we have had a debate.” This is where I realised the cleverness of this petition idea. I’d maybe go as far as to actually congratulate them on just how clever it actually is. I mean it’s bordering on genius and I’ll explain why: You see this is a great way of getting people involved in politics. You see a petition you like or you start one of your own and slowly you gather signatures. Obviously by signing a petition, you are trying to show your support for the idea it discusses and you hope that by signing it, you are pushing your government one step closer to changing their minds on the topic.

After all, the government is there to serve the people, right? The thing is you can tell after 10,000 signatures whether Parliament will change anything or not. Their response will reflect the overall opinion of Parliament and express their reasons as to why they don’t think the petition is in the best interests of the people, because it appears that it is not the people who decide what they want, but Parliament. So even if you then get 500,000 signatures or more, going into the debate is almost a pointless act.

Sure there will be people there to support both sides, but at the end of the day it is nothing more than a discussion and once the debate is over, regardless of how great the arguments were in favour of change, they have now debated that topic and can claim to have done so. You see once a topic has been debated, that is it. Parliament has fulfilled its obligation to debate the topic (even if they go into it with a completely closed mind) and now your topic won’t need to be discussed again in the near future.

Looking at the second point, I realised that regardless of how many people sign a petition, Parliament aren’t going to change anything that might affect them in the future. The level of ass-kissing displayed in the debate as a whole was enough to make my stomach churn but the blatantly obvious nod to potential US listeners/watchers (probably Trump out of all people) shows that while this topic was being discussed, it was not being discussed openly. Rather it was being discussed as if all the people in the room were standing on thin ice that could break at any moment.

I mean we wouldn’t want to offend the potential future president, would we? Another thing was made very clear by the overuse of the word “diverse”. Those discussing the topic wanted to make sure that they appeared just that, diverse. I mean if there was the slight hint that they were supporting a white, Christian male over Muslims, there could be reasons for people to act outraged. So in case you were worried that the debate wasn’t diverse enough, they decided to tell you over and over again just so you were aware of just how diverse it really is.

I’m not implying that there is any sort of race or religious bias within parliament, not at all. I wouldn’t hesitate to point out the obvious class bias though. Just listen to them argue in parliamentary debates. They are like a bunch of private schooled children who are arguing in the playground over who owns the rarest breed of fucking parrot or who has the oldest butler!

I mean the conflict of interest that takes place within the UK government is actually phenomenal. Recent statistics have shown that on average, something like 50% of each party are land lords (it was something like 70% within the Conservative party). I’m not one to restrict anybody’s rights…but if it were up to me, working within Parliament would be your only job. No renting out houses on the side, no advising oil companies on how to spend their money. No…do your job and if you want to skip into the sunset to become a landlord, that’s fine. Just give up your seat in Parliament first!

 

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