Sir Ringo? Let’s get Ringo knighted…

Yesterday someone sent me a link to a Times Online opinion piece.  Writer Danny Finkelstein is calling for a test of the petitions system. He mentions one of my favourites, Tim Ireland’s asking the PM to stand on his head and juggle ice cream, then proposes his own.Assuming that it passes the No. 10 filtering process, Danny would like you to sign a petition to get Ringo Starr a knighthood. You can sing up here to show your support, waiting until it does actually appear on the No. 10 site.  It truly is a funy commentary on the democratic process, however, we may get Ringo knighted in the process.

Here’s what we’ve read.

Ringo_starrI don’t usually do this, but here is my column today in full. It explains my campaign to get Ringo Starr knighted.

There is a bridge under construction spanning the Danube between Buda and Pest, and I think about it often, always with irritation. You see, it is going to be called the Megyeri Hid, just because it connects Káposztásmegyer and Békásmegye. But this name is an outrage, a fraud, a robbery. And before you walk away shrugging your shoulders, I must tell you that this fraud is about to be perpetrated on you.

In the summer Hungary’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Transport decided to hold a public vote on its website. The subject — what should the new bridge connecting Káposztásmegyer and Békásmegye be called?

Within days, fans of the US martial arts actor Chuck Norris had pushed his name to the top of the ballot. Now, Chuck Norris turned down a role in Karate Kid on a point of principle, so obviously he deserves to have a bridge named after him. But, in the end, he didn’t win. The American satirist Stephen Colbert launched a campaign to have the structure named after him instead. And in a two-way fight with the Croatian-Hungarian national hero, Miklós Zrínyi, the comedian romped home. More people voted for him than the entire population of Hungary. The Stephen Colbert Hid it would be.

Oh no it wouldn’t. It was announced that Colbert had won but couldn’t have the bridge named after him unless he spoke fluent Hungarian and was deceased. The comedian felt unable to comply with the latter condition and the Hungarian Geographical Name Committee duly named the structure the Megyeri Hid.

Why do I recount this cautionary tale? Because a similar form of bogus democracy is heading to a computer near you.

The Downing Street website is beta-testing (a fancy phrase used by computer people that means testing) an open petition system, and last month the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne canvassed the idea of copying the Estonian Government’s Today You Decide website, in which the petition is followed by a vote.

These sound like good ideas. Who could be against allowing people to express their opinion like this? Well, er, actually I think I might be. Anyone who has had the experience of being “consulted” by their local council will see why I am wary. If there’s anything worse than having a bigger council tax it is being told that local voters supported it in some sort of phoney consultation exercise.

And if you look down the list of Downing Street petitions, is there one, a single one, you can actually imagine making a difference? 4,391 people have signed a petition to scrap the independent nuclear deterrent, 1,629 want Mr Blair to stand on his head and juggle ice cream (“if he’s not going to resign, the least he can do is provide us with some entertainment”), two people have called on the Prime Minister to allow the sale of elephants in pet shops (“We believe that every child in the UK would benefit from owning an elephant”). I would estimate the chances of success of each of these petitions as roughly equal.

To almost every idea on the Downing Street site there is an obvious objection — it is patently silly; it costs too much money; it is a Tory idea and this is a Labour Government; it has 14,000 signatures but millions of people are against it; it is a crucial matter of national security and the Prime Minister isn’t going to be told what to do by some guy in Edmonton with a Yahoo! account; Mr Blair doesn’t like ice cream.

These are all reasonable objections and you can’t be too angry with Downing Street for using them. But I rather suspect that even if none of them held, the petitions would still get nowhere. And this is where I need your help. I want you to help me to test the Downing Street petition system.

Last night I submitted a petition to the No 10 approvals team. It may take them a day or two, but given that they accepted a petition for Mr Blair to wear a head-mounted video camera, my hopes of being allowed to proceed are high.

I’ve thought long and hard about the subject. In order for it to be a proper test, the result must be unequivocal. It must be obvious that the desired outcome would not have occurred without the petition and clear, too, that it has really occurred. Looking at those online already, the petition to save the BBC licence fee would fall at the first of these hurdles while the petition to Save Walsall would fall at the second.

Yet while the subject must be something that would not have occurred without a petition it must still be realistic, something that could occur. At the same time, it mustn’t cost any money or impede any other government programme. It must be something that a Labour prime minister might be in favour of yet hasn’t done, even in ten years. And it must be something that some people are in favour of and those who aren’t don’t care all that much about.

This doesn’t leave us with much, which is why the new online petition system is not destined to transform our national life. But I think I have come up with something that might allow us to test the system.

I have petitioned the Prime Minister to recommend to the Queen that she confer a knighthood on Ringo Starr.

Sorry. That’s about the best I could do. Think it’s trivial? Anything much bigger and you wouldn’t haven’t a prayer. And I think Ringo deserves it, don’t you? George Martin has a knighthood and he wasn’t even in the Beatles. Tom Jones has a knighthood, for heaven’s sake (Why, Why, Why, Delilah?). The Beatles helped to change the face of modern culture, so surely there should be an insignia in it for the man who kept the beat.

All I need (apart from love, of course) is for you to go to the Downing Street website or mine and sign up. Then we’ll see how much of a fraud the whole thing is.

Source: Times UK Online

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