Friday, 13 May 2016

The People Have Spoken

The Boaty McBoatface saga has entertained the British public for some months but it came to its inevitable end when, despite overwhelming public support (in the form of votes), for the name RSS (royal research ship) Boaty McBoatface, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) announced that the ship was to be called RRS David Attenborough. Very worthy I'm sure, and at a very fit age of 90, and with seemingly a few more years in front of him, a deserved honour ...... but BORING!

Boaty McBoatface... Sadly Never To Sail the Seas.

For those few readers who haven't heard of the story .... the ageing research ship the 'RRS James Clark Ross', which patrols the Arctic, is to be replaced and the public was asked to name the new vessel. A BBC presenter called James Hand, took one look at the new vessel, and said it looked like a child's toy and suggested the name 'Boaty McBoatface' .... it went viral (as these things often do - and spawned a million copycats), and soon the popular vote was overwhelmingly to give the vessel that name.

If you are going to have an exercise in 'democracy' then you are as well to prefix the result.

(a) Offer no free choice and just a limited selection choice e.g. like an election ballot.


(b) Don't bother and get a 'representative committee' to make the choice.

Because that's how 'democracy' works .... at least in the UK.

But our lords and masters (in this case the NERC, The Universities, and science minister Jo Johnson), didn't think this through, and after much huffing and puffing, found themselves having to simply override the public vote ..... much public booing took place on social media. Buts lets be honest, they were never going to allow a 'popular choice', that didn't match a predetermined result .... but somehow that's all to the good  really, (or so they say), as it engaged the public with science.

Of course if they had bothered to follow the simple rules and 'rigged the vote', they wouldn't have found themselves being so roundly mocked for their sterile exercise in 'democracy'.

And there are examples they could have looked at first ....

In 2004 in the UK, the North Ealing MP Stephen Pound was given the chance to introduce a private members’ bill of his choice before Parliament (it was the first bill in the private members list, and therefore the only such bill likely to have enough debating time to actually stand a chance of becoming law). He decided to run an exercise in 'popular democracy', and went on the BBC's flagship morning radio news program 'Today', and offer its listeners a chance to determine what law his private members bill should be.

Everything went swimmingly, until that is, the public ended up voting overwhelmingly for a new law 'to allow householders to attack burglars with whatever force they chose to'. He didn't put this forward (and no one can remember what bit of fluff he ended up wasting the chance on ... it didn't make it as a law whatever it was).

Then there was the example of the UK's Liberal Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, who came to office in 2010, and having obviously learnt nothing by Mr Pound's example, in an exercise in 'popular democracy' sought public suggestions for a piece of legislation to be abolished .... overwhelmed by suggestions it didn’t like, the government just dropped the scheme .... never to be mentioned in polite company again.

So the lesson is ..... don't ever let the people get what they really want, because its bound to be something you didn't want them to have e.g. hanging, flogging teen thugs, deporting criminal or illegal immigrants, stiff prison sentences etc etc .....

Dick Tuck ... Original Phrase

About the only funny thing to come out of this was that when Mr Pound found out that the public wanted a bill to beat burglars within an inch of their lives (without being arrested for it) .... he came on to the 'Today programme' to announce (not an original quote, as Dick Tuck came up with it in 1966), that 'his faith in democracy had been shaken' and that ....

....... "The people have spoken. The bastards".


  1. Excellent study. I can't help thinking however, that in this particular example the voters weren't serious about their choice but found the exercise a bit of fun and were perhaps curious to see what the authorities would do with the results. They had no stake in their choice; it not being a law to which they'd have to adhere, and they weren't going to serve on the ship and so wouldn't have to admit to coming from the vessel "Boaty McBoatface". Indeed, had the NERC gone ahead and named the vessel according to the vote, most of the voters would probably have thought them stupid as well as short-sighted.

    1. I don't think that there's any doubt that the public were enjoying the joke, nor that they really expected the ship to be named Boaty McBoatface but the underlying point of this and the other examples is that we don't practice democracy or anything close to it. The public rarely if ever get a free choice, and even that is liable to be simply overruled or ignored by the state, if they dare vote for something the state doesn't want or thinks is unacceptable.

  2. They should have accepted Boaty McBoatface as the name.

    It turns out that the current research vessel, the RRS Ernest Shackleton is being used to accompany a luxury liner's voyage in the Arctic. So Boaty McBoatface escorting The Love Boat, or what ever the cruise chips called, would be a better name fit.

    1. Thanks for comment and link .... a story that just gives and gives.


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