Mark Thomas: The People's Manifesto

Book review by Steve Bennett

In this election year, here’s the one manifesto that’s sure to be popular with the people… because it was written by the people.

Campaigning comic Mark Thomas struck on the inspired idea of asking audiences on his last tour for suggestions for new laws; then voting on the best of that gig. This pocket-sized book details 40 of Thomas’s – and the audience’s - favourites, and provides a more fascinating snapshot of what’s on the nation’s mind than any YouGov poll.

It calls to mind the era of the political pamphlet. To say such publications aren’t quite as popular now as they used to be would be an understatement, but when revolutionary fervour was sweeping Europe, people couldn’t get enough of them. Thomas Paine sold around 1.5million copies of his 1791 tract Rights Of Man in England alone. Quite some feat among a population of little more than 8million.

Now, thanks to Thomas we have a new agenda. The voters – or at least that section of the electorate that attends live gigs by left-wing stand-ups – have spoken again. And MPs’s aren’t going to like what they said…

The expenses scandal is clearly high on the list of concerns, with a quarter of all the proposals relating directly to politicians’ behaviour – the one aspect of public life the Commons is remarkably sluggish in legislating for. Examples include No 22: ‘Politicians should have to wear tabards displaying the names and logos of the companies with whom they have a financial relationship, like a racing driver’, and No 6, that MPs should not be paid wages, but loans, like students.

In what is probably a peculiarly British trait, items of great import sit aside the more whimsical. At one gig, the audience voted to adopt a policy of ensuring the abortion act applies to Northern Ireland as well as the rest of Britain (and it’ll be a revelation to most mainlanders to discover it isn’t), while another suggests Windsor should be renamed Lower Slough, just to stop it getting ideas above its station.

There’s a policy on dogshit, as an inevitable reflection of the concerns of many, while one suggestion was to ‘hang a banker every day of the year… and allotments for everyone’. ‘How very British,’ Thomas concludes. ‘ A quaint mixture of bloodlust and gardening.’

Some of the suggestions are strident, some wonderfully inventive, and Thomas gives brief details of how each would work. The book’s a very brisk read – you’ll probably polish it off in a single commute – but probably contains more home truths and inventive solutions that all the other limp policy documents, full of meaningless buzzwords, that’ll be issued over the coming weeks.

  • Mark Thomas: The People's Manifesto was published yesterday by Ebury Press, priced £4.99. Click here to order from Amazon at £3.61.

Published: 29 Jan 2010

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