Monday, 30 January 2017

The Trump state visit petition is a ridiulous thing

E-petitions are ridiculous things.
Look no further than the one that is currently doing the rounds calling for the British Government to withdraw the offer of a state visit to President Trump later this year.
As I sit typing at 3.00pm on Monday afternoon, just twenty four hours after the petition was launched, 1,294,718 people have taken the time to sign it.
That is a number that is unprecedented on the Government’s own electronic petition website. I’m sure it will go significantly higher.
But delve behind the total and you get a different picture, a picture possibly driven by ambivalence, possibly by disagreement but a picture which undoubtedly shows that a whirlwind of social media support does not necessarily correlate with the wider public mood.
You see, the government petition site allows you to drill down to see how many people in each parliamentary constituency have shown support for an idea and it’s illuminating.
For instance in the Boston and Skegness parliamentary constituency right now just 626 people have signed the petition, that’s 0.6% of the 103,898 electors in that area.
In Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, the constituency of Yvette Cooper, the percentage is just 0.75% of the electorate.
In my own, Conservative held, constituency of North West Leicestershire the figures are slightly higher with 1,178 signatures (or 1.23% of all voters).
Even in that most liberal of all bastions Brighton, Pavilion just 7.2% of constituents have signed this petition which is now dominating the news cycle.
The simple truth is, and accepting numbers of signatures may continue to rise significantly past the initial first 24 hour rush, that the overwhelming majority of our country will not take the minimal time or effort to fill in a few boxes online.
What does that tell us?
It may well say to a large number of us that President Trump is doing no more than the things he promised on the campaign trail and that he was elected into office to carry out.
It may well say that Her Majesty offered the invitation of a state visit in the full knowledge that this was Mr Trump’s agenda.
It could be argued that the majority of the British electorate believe a strong working relationship with the United States is preferable to hostile one and that America seeking to take control of borders in a way which is undesirable to us, including me I hasten to add, is not a red line sufficient enough to jeopardise that bond.
It could be that others of us, perhaps those with a greater understanding of the US system, take a view that an Executive Order is by definition an extension of existing legislation. Legislation that indeed was formulated under the Obama administration.
Or it could be that most Britons believe that President Trumps actions are a matter for the American public and not ours.
The potential reasons that people have not signed this e-petition are many but there can be no doubt that those choosing not to sign are in the significant majority.
All of which begs the question ‘why the furore now’?
And to my mind the answer is simple. There are a great many people in this country who simply do not like President Trump.
A great many think he is a boorish oaf not fit to lace the shoes of the urbane, intellectual former President Obama and no matter what this democratically elected President does he will be held, by them, in complete disdain.
I am no fan of President Trump, I can’t believe for one second that had I been able to vote that I would have cast my ballot for him. But he was democratically elected with a clear mandate and a clear agenda under the US system.
It is right for opponents of Mr Trump, both here and in the United States, to voice their dissent or to demonstrate. That is what freedom of speech is about.
But ultimately when we do so we have to realise that the far larger silent majority may well have other views.
When you sign an e-petition, even one which could be deemed by many to be nothing more than petulant grandstanding, you have to be careful. There is always the chance that it can highlight to the world how small your voice actually is.

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