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Spending Challenge: race hate meets comedy gold

Spending Challenge website

The government's Spending Challenge website, launched on Friday, invites us to send our ideas for cuts. "A team has been put together right at the heart of government," claims the blurb on the homepage, "and their job is to make sure that your ideas and comments are taken seriously."

Which is deeply worrying, because for the most part the contributors to Spending Challenge give the impression that they have moved there directly from the Daily Express comments board. Many entries have little bearing on government doing "more for less" and instead reflect personal hobby-horses, like the ubiquitous "Bring Back Capital Punishment". Others are exercised by "benefit scroungers", such as the contributor who wants to sterilise young girls who "just breed at will".

One of the most popular tags is "immigration". Entries here tend to fall into one of two categories:

The former includes a post, "there is only one way to save money", which states:

"now i am not a racist person but this country has had problems since the early 60's we need to decrease the number of immergrants in the uk i walk dow the street only to see hundreds of illegal immergrants that cant even speak english and i mean polish and muslims mainly and most of themare working in our local shops and local call centres."

The latter includes "STOP IMMIGRATION START REPATRIATION", which even links to a Facebook group.

All of which has led one contributor to ask: "Is the moderator asleep?" The answer seems to be yes, as many hateful comments remain online despite being having been highlighted on Twitter and in blogs since the weekend. Some users have helpfully added the tag "Racist" to offending posts to assist the sleepy moderator.

Where is the TaxPayers' Alliance when you need it? Why is the govenment spending our taxes on a repository of racial, sexist and homophobic hate? The BNP already has a website.

Happily, there are some more enjoyable moments to be found amongst the dross, including the following austerity-inspired measures:

There is also a highly-rated recipe for "Beef and vegetable casserole", described by one visitor as "the most sensible thing I have read on this site".

And is it just possible that Ed Balls has joined in too, with a suggestion to "Send one Miliband brother to Africa to supplement international aid"? "In this age of austerity we can't really afford two of them," writes "jeesus"/Balls, who adds thoughtfully: "Flights have a huge carbon footprint so he should be sent there with a boat."

Perhaps the most ingenious suggestion is entitled "Create Spending Challenge Website":

"Create a website where the entire population of the UK can make absurd suggestions on how the Government can save money. Allow easy access and registration so that users can create multiple accounts to vote on their own suggestions. As hundreds of thousands of citizens will be sat on their computer, they will not be a drain on resources outside their own homes such as roads, police, oxygen etc. Saving money."

So why is Spending Challenge turning into the Tories' biggest crowdsourced car crash since Cash Gordon?

First, the premise is wrong. The deficit has spiralled due to bank bailouts and recession – particularly falling tax revenues. Government cuts – driven by ideology rather than necessity – may well increase the deficit by dampening growth. If Spending Challenge focused on improving services, it might have something to commend it. But the title gives it away: it's about cuts.

Second, this simple crowdsourced approach, while perfect for the Photoshopped fun of MyDavidCameron, is entirely ill-suited to developing policy. Guy Aitchison explained why, in relation to the government's more benign Your Freedom website:

"I have some experience of trying to run an online political consultation having done so with the Power2010 campaign. As with 'Your Freedom' we asked people to submit ideas to be discussed and debated online in comment threads before being voted on. This process brings with it the well-known problem that the most organised and active interest groups will push their agenda to the fore (this is true of democracy in general, of course, but on the web it's amplified). It is also extremely limiting. People visiting a website have no obligation or real incentive to educate themselves on the issues or explore alternative points of view. It’s easy just to turn up, copy and paste your favourite rant, and then move on.

"Of course, there will be moderators who can identify this but I can’t help but feel that an opportunity has been missed to build in more deliberative processes that would have allowed people to explore and probe the issues face-to-face, as happened with Power2010’s deliberative poll ran by James Fishkin which brought a representative sample of over 100 people together over a weekend to discuss political reform.

"It was striking how seriously people treat the issues when given the chance (especially compared to most web discussion) and I can’t help but think an opportunity has been missed for a much richer public discussion of what the values are that people want protected. This could have informed and fed into the online deliberation and would have also been more inclusive allowing the large percentage of the population who aren't internet users to join in."

Others, too, seek more meaningful forms of public engagement – Paul Evans's Local Democracy blog is well worth reading. But for now we must make do with cut-and-paste ranting, which means this might be the only Spending Challenge suggestion that actually works: "Charge £10 a go for suggesting 'make benefit claimants work for their money' on this site."

(A shorter version of this post appears at Liberal Conspiracy.)

Posted by Other TPA at 03:34pm on 13 July 2010
Tags: Cuts,Spending Challenge

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Good luck to the illegal immergrants working in call centres who can’t speak English; they’ll need it.

The “Create Spending Challenge Website” is brilliant.

Posted by Eoghan at 03:54pm on 13 July 2010

How can you trash a site that is delivering some of the best humour we’ve seen in this country since Tommy Cooper? Immergrants need to be sent back to the dictionary to have a word with racstis and see if they can’t come to some middle ground. How can you not love the British public? Long live Cameron, Clegg and the crazy ideas ministry.

Posted by Michael2brannigan at 07:31pm on 13 July 2010

Have YOU taken the spending challenge? I have.

Is there a facebook page for collecting these yet?

Posted by DCampbell at 08:48pm on 13 July 2010

“Divert all welfare funding to Nuclear Weapons”? Why, I thought that had been established Conservative Party policy since 1979…

Posted by Hugh at 10:04am on 14 July 2010

My suggestion was a simple one, end the nonsensical circuity of government through forming an effective and commercially active branch of government, unprecedented nationalisation is actually the answer, the government need never pay for anything in this country, Britain PLC and the national dividend, welfare systems reformed to provide necessities for life ie food, shelter etc. not money and for the love of god stop public bodies from paying millions in consultation fees when the answers given are in the realms of the more ridiculous suggestions here/therein. 
Truthfully what is required is the realisation that communism is the truest form of Democracy, Democracy the truest form of communism and the closest thing to either (neither having been formed by humans) hasn’t existed for millenia.

Does a half joke about concentration camps for the rich count as abusive or hateful?

Posted by David at 01:18pm on 16 July 2010

Tut! Typical! I wait for months to visit ‘spendingchallenge only to find the b*** thing’s “down for maintenance”. Perhaps it was too expensive to run and they’ve shut it down. Either that or the laptop it was running on has been left in a taxi ..

Posted by peterg22 at 01:33pm on 16 July 2010

The website was a disaster and an embarresment to the treasury
I agree with the idea off letting people decide waht they want and belive if it had been monitered properly we could have had some great ideas
However the Monster Raving Looney fringe seemd to have control off it

i do not hear any compalints from the taxpayers Alliance and no doubt they were happy to use it
Not they are asking me for a donation Has their large pot off money dried up

Posted by kevin at 08:35am on 17 July 2010

Thank you Mr Singer for reprinting the suggestion “there is only one way to save money”, which could have been more aptly entitled “How to make a complete ass of yourself in public”.
Unfortunately some of the readers of your excellent article were incapable of taking the subtle hint, even to the extent of replicating the misspellings.

Posted by John Didwell at 07:38pm on 19 July 2010

Shame really, in the first 24 hours when I viewed it there were a lot of interesting and meaningful suggestions across a range of areas including fostering/adoption procedures, local authority spending, healthcare provision, defence procurement.  Surely it just needs some sensible moderation - as Guido says Freedom is messy, but there will be gems in there.

Posted by Julian Boulter at 07:59am on 20 July 2010

what about giving the goat the job as head off the Treasury I could eat the see off waste paper
However on a more salient point there were a great number off good ideas some from people whom i had encouraged to become involvved
What worried me however was the Treasurys proud boast that not all comments would be read

Posted by The goat adoted by kevin taylor at 01:28pm on 23 July 2010

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