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Columnists

Surfers' paradise

Dixe Wills

dixe.jpgSo, goodbye 2011. Lest we forget, it was a year that saw some notable breakthroughs: the invention of portable chewing gum; the discovery of another fully formed continent hovering 12 feet above Indonesia (who knew?); and the welcome re-emergence of taffeta, albeit this time as a foodstuff. However, despite these triumphs, it cannot be denied that 2011 is likely to go unmourned in most British households.
And there's unlikely to be a better way to take the pulse of a nation as it shuffles into 2012 than to examine the appeals for action posted on the government's website.

Established by Labour and maintained with an unswerving lack of enthusiasm by the Coalition, any petition that garners 100,000 signatories will have its subject matter debated in parliament.

So, what are the burning issues the British public wished to see fruitlessly argued over by their MPs before being quietly ignored again? With unemployment and child poverty rising inexorably; a national health system in danger of being made into a business (the prime minister's word, not mine); pensions evaporating; an economy on the verge of another recession; savage cuts in public services; a banking system no more regulated than it was at the beginning of the year; corporations routinely avoiding their tax bills; and a government hell bent on reneging on its promise to be the greenest in history, there was certainly plenty from which to choose.

Intriguingly, such topics barely register. There is a petition calling for pensions to increase in line with the Retail Price Index; one in support of the Open University; and way down the list there's Green MP Caroline Lucas' opposition to corporate tax avoidance.

Of the five petitions that have crashed through the magic 100,000 barrier, one calls for the full disclosure of Hillsborough disaster documents; one demands curbs on immigration; another pleads for lower petrol prices (and has already received its noticeably squib-like 15 minutes of parliamentary fame); while a fourth sensibly asks for financial education to be included in schools' curricula.

However, the most popular petition - attracting a whomping quarter of a million signatures - goes by the title, 'Convicted London rioters should loose [sic] all benefits.' A counter-petition pointing out that such a measure would encourage  looters to embark on further crimes to sustain themselves has just 4,000 adherents.

So, with the world in turmoil and Jeremy Clarkson still allowed to draw breath, the most pressing desire among the British public is an ill thought out cry of revenge against a group of young people who smashed up and robbed some shops. It's going to be a very long 2012. Unless that is, the Mayans were right, in which case it will be ten days shorter than usual. Every cloud, eh? 

Dixe Wills