The People’s Manifesto - Mark Thomas interview
After Coca-Cola and the International Arms Trade, Mark Thomas delivers his solutions to the current state of British politics, with a little help from the British people.
Political reform may sound like a task filled with difficult problems, but as Mark Thomas explains; we already have all the answers. While touring last year’s It’s The Stupid Economy show, Mark asked audiences to suggest policies to sort out British politics and in true democratic style the best policies were then voted into the new The Peoples Manifesto, a book and BBC Radio 4 show that aims to give politics back to the people.
'People innately have lots of solutions. It sounds like an obvious thing, but everyone thinks that they can be prime minister; everyone thinks that they can do a better job. They certainly think they can do a better job than their MP. Everyone has opinions, and that was how the manifesto show was born. Instead of politicians telling us what we should do, it should be the other way round.'
Thomas, 46, has been a stalwart of the alternative comedy scene for over twenty-five years, having found humour in the unlikely sources of anti-corporation demonstrations and political corruption. He is perhaps best known for his Channel Four show, The Mark Thomas Product, that exposed legal loopholes in the arms trade and data protection act, yet he has also won significant awards for his investigative journalism and his activism on human rights issues. Does this mean he is still a comedian first and foremost?
'People ask whether I put the politics first, journalism first or the comedy first; it doesn’t really matter. I’m just playing with the cards that I have been dealt because I really love doing what I do. I love the fact that this past year has been about the manifesto, the year before that it was about Coca Cola and the year before that it was about the serious organised crime and police act. I guess I’ve spent twenty five years of my life trying to avoid a proper job.'
From the absurd and humorous, to the serious and practical, The People’s Manifesto contains ideas from across the country and Thomas genuinely believes that some of them would actually improve Britain, such as the Prohibition of Deception Act which would makes it illegal for MPs to knowingly lie - or ‘Archers Law’ as he claims it will popularly be known.
'I do love the idea of being able to take an MP to court for lying. There are ways and means of taking an MP to court just now, but it is very difficult. Do you remember that great quote by Geoff Hoon? When he was asked if he had seen the report for going to Iraq, he said that he hadn’t, which was factually correct, because it had been read to him. Although he wasn’t technically lying, he wasn’t telling the truth either. Situations like that are just too important; there are peoples’ lives at stake.'
'Even in Scotland if we remember, the first election of the Scottish Parliament saw the Liberal Democrats reneging on their main manifesto pledge, and it’s from this that we have one of our manifesto pledges - that manifesto’s must be legally binding. If you are elected on central policies like NHS, tuition fees, and you break your pledge, people shouldn’t have to wait four years to get you out, they should be able to get your arse into court and hit you where it hurts - which is in the pocket.'
Articulate and principled, Thomas has continually fought the position of the underdog and has shown his willingness to court controversy when he feels it is necessary. His website recently carried his objections to the proposed state-funded funeral of Margaret Thatcher, inviting users to download and sign a protest postcard addressed to the Queen detailing what else they will be doing on the days of the funeral; from fireworks and barbeques to name but a few.
'There is a massive irony in the woman who didn’t believe in society - who said that there is no such thing as society - then expects society to whip round and bury her. Her, Pinochet and Reagan where the architects of neo-liberalism and, as such, they shouldn’t be celebrated, they shouldn’t be regarded as national heroes. They are disgraces.'
With MP’s expenses, banking mismanagement, neo-liberalism and civil rights abuses still prevalent in Britain today, Mark Thomas could be forgiven for having a pessimistic outlook on the future. However, this could not be further from the truth.
'If you look at it in historical terms, we have come a long way since we have had the vote. Women haven’t even had the vote for 100 years yet. This last year in particular I think there has been a fundamental shift in attitudes that will take a long time to wear down. People are even more wary of politicians and they are realising that democracy isn’t just about putting a cross on a ballot every four years, it’s about deciding what you want and fighting for it.'
Mark Thomas plays the Glasgow Stand on Monday 18th January and Edinburgh Stand on Tuesday 19th.