In 2011, the former Coalition Government introduced e-petitions. This idea was presented as a mechanism of democracy that gave people the power to seek specific action from the Government or from Parliament on issues which otherwise were unlikely to be raised. Topics have been varied and have included calling for mandatory drugs tests for MPs, the full disclosure of all Government documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster and minimum prices for milk.
The threshold was to require 100,000 signatures and no less than 14 petitions have been debated in Parliament this year. While they may prove to be a good way to raise the profile of an issue, none so far have led to any specific action or changes in the law. But again none had reached to the record of more than half a million signatories wanting the xenophobic US presidential hopeful Donald Trump to be excluded from the UK. Such was the outrage of his provocation in calling for all Muslims to be denied entry to the US.
The Petitions Committee of 11 backbench MPs are due to discuss the demand at their next meeting on January 6. Already there has been widespread denunciation of the American presidential hopeful. Yet from past performances it is highly unlikely that any action will be taken against the billionaire judging from the reaction by ministers even though 84 “preachers of hate” have already been banned from the UK. It is likely to be one law for the rich and powerful again and another law for the rest.
What should not be allowed though is for the issue to be brushed under the carpet. It has been Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his Conservative Party that have been at the forefront of imposing restrictions on free speech in the name of the so-called war against terrorism. And it is the Muslim community which has borne the brunt of this attack on free speech.
The logical argument is that if “hate preachers” are being banned from British shores, all should be banned even if they happen to currently be leading the Republican nomination for US President. As Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has warned her rival is “dangerous” and she no longer thinks he is “funny.” It would be difficult to argue anything other than that his comments are clearly preaching hate and need to be stopped in their tracks.
The best response came for Scotland. Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, pulled no punches when she said the US presidential hopeful showed he was “no longer fit to be a business ambassador for Scotland” after relieving him from the position given to him by her Labour predecessors. His comments were “obnoxious and offensive, and have rightly been condemned by people across the political spectrum, in the United States and elsewhere.” The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen also stripped him of an honorary degree.