About that petition you just signed…

“Hi Julian Cole…” Suddenly I am on very friendly terms with the government. Please don’t hold this against me. All I did was sign a petition saying that Britain should accept more refugees.

I don’t usually put my name to things. But I did sign that petition on the UK Government and Parliament Petitions website, along with more than 400,000 others. The way these petitions work is that if there are more than 100,000 signatures the government then has to agree to a debate, or at least agree to consider having a debate.

Signing that petition triggered two emails. The first one said the Petitions Committee had decided there was no need for a debate as the matter had already been discussed in the House of Commons on several occasions, including last Monday, so “the time was not right for another debate on the same issue”. Monday’s debate, you will recall, was mostly dominated by David Cameron telling us he had sent in the drones to kill two Britons said to have been fighting for Isis.

The brief statement felt like a pat on the head: don’t you worry your little head about that petition, the government has everything in hand, so why don’t you just go back to watching the Great British Bake Off.

Then this morning another email arrived. This one was far more detailed. It began: “The UK has a proud history of providing refuge to those in genuine need of protection. We will continue to play our full part at the forefront of the international response to the crisis…”

There was more, very much more, of the same. It was like being delivered your very own bit of political ducking-and-diving – like finding David Cameron smarming around in the inbox, swaddled in statistics.

The signature read: “Home Office.” Very brusque. Never mind all that “Hi Julian Cole” stuff now.

This left me a little confused. Number one email patronised me; number two email went into great detail to illustrate that I was wrong. Part of the reason, I guess, is that such petitions are monitored by a committee that stands between the government and the petitioners.

Sometimes the committee responds to you; sometimes it passes on the government response. The first email came directly from the committee; the second conveyed the government reaction to the petition. But does this process represent genuine democracy or is it more of a sop?

Here are two further thoughts on the topic of the moment.

ONE: Does the very widespread public concern about refugees mean that the sort of anti-immigrant feelings stirred by some politicians, in particular Ukip and Nigel Farage, are now on the wane? Or once the dreadful images and stories of suffering eventually retreat from our screens and our newspaper pages, will people forget and allow fear of the other to sneak back in? Farage was on the evening news again last night, saying the EU ‘must be mad’ for accepting so many refugees. He also added that those on the move were economic migrants and not refugees, and said that the EU should use patrol boats to send people back to where they’d come from. So not much compassion there, Nigel. Might I suggest a poll with the following wording: “Nigel Farage, leader of Ukip, should in future be known simply as Mr Must Be Mad.”

TWO: Did you see the Riddell’s View cartoon in The Observer last Sunday? Unlike Steve Bell, his brilliant and sometimes extravagantly insulting colleague on The Guardian, Chris Riddell prefers a simple approach. Mostly this cartoon is filled with blue sea, apart from a corner of beach. Where the sea meets the land there lies the body of a small boy, face down in the water. The text reads: “SWARM” D CAMERON

Simple, but devastating.


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