Saturday 3 July 2010

'Your Freedom' - Cones Hotline For The 21st Century

The government's new site, Your Freedom, which asks the public for ideas on laws they would like to see repealed, is in theory an interesting initiative. One of the criticisms of the thirteen years of Labour in government was the huge number of new laws it introduced - an average of one every three-and-a-quarter hours during Tony Blair's premiership - with the vast majority created by statutory instrument rather than act of parliament, allowing little time for debate and scrutiny.

Some of the finest examples include laws making it illegal to sell grey squirrels, impersonate a traffic warden or fail to nominate a neighbour to turn off your burglar alarm while you are away from home. I'm also not sure about the pressing necessity of the Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Act 1998 - can anyone have been confused about the legality of causing a nuclear explosion?

However, the problem with crowdsourcing opinions from citizens via a poorly executed website, one that crashed on the day of its launch, is not only that it has provided a platform for the type of contributor routinely mocked by Private Eye's 'From the Message Boards' column - racists, the semi-literate, those who TYPE ENTIRELY IN CAPITALS and people who want either more new laws or to repeal ones that don't even exist. The problem is also that the site makes a mockery of the idea of popular participation or proper consultation.

Despite the promise that some proposals "could end up making it into bills we bring before Parliament to change the law", there is no firm promise that this government will listen any more than the last one ever did through the far better designed No 10 e-Petitions site (which, since the election of the new government, has been wiped clean of all petitions submitted by the public).

I have to agree with the excellent Your Freedumb blog, which has collected some of the best and worst of the 2205 ideas submitted to date: it says that "in the long term these kind of half-hearted, tokenistic exercises only serve to increase people’s cynicism about politics. If someone’s taken the time to add a suggestion to Your Freedom, only for absolutely nothing to happen in response to these, they’re going to be even more disengaged next time."

Your Freedom already looks a lot like John Major's much-derided Cones Hotline. Out of 17,000 calls it received, only five resulted in any cones being removed and many were pranks, including one reputedly to request a “'99 with raspberry sauce”. And after only a couple of days, another half-hearted tokenistic exercise has already brought out some wonderful examples of instinctive cynicism and disengagement.

Although the site finally has a moderation policy that pledges to remove "nonsensical" ideas, those that are still available online include suggestions that "whoever comes third in a general election cannot be Deputy Prime Minister", the repeal of Sod's Law, the second law of thermodynamics and Andy Newman (moderator of the Socialist Unity blog), plus some great suggestions from Dave Turner. who begins: "long time voter, first time legislator..."

Let's hope for many more like this, before the government realises their pointless website has become a terrible embarrassment and closes it down.


Anonymous said...

"...racists,semi-literates, PEOPLE WHO WRITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS ...etc"


Are you not supposed to a "Community" Worker Kevin ?

How can you be so elitist ?

These are just the sort sort of people "Community" Workers have to work with, do work with, wind up against the wicked Council, Police , etc.

PS Sorry for any spelling mistake, --missed out on reading English at Cambridge !

Kevin said...

Dear Anonymous,

I'm not 'supposed' to a "Community" Worker - I am a community worker.

Few of the community members that I encounter every day are either semi-literate or racist - but recognising that an majority of those who troll websites and type enraged, capitalised rubbish onto the 'Your Freedom' website clearly are doesn't make for an elitist argument - it's just self-evident.

By the way, my degree from the City of London Polytechnic was sufficent to provide more than enough spelling and grammar, without ever needing to read English at Cambridge - so who's being elitist now?

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