Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Review of The People’s Manifesto by Mark Thomas (Ebury Press, 2010)

In early 2009, stand-up comedian and activist, Mark Thomas, toured Britain asking his audience for policies to tackle the social and economic issues that concerned them. The process was simple – the audience were given forms at the start of the show and asked to make suggestions. Thomas would then weed out doubles, bin the crazies, and then head on stage to discuss the 60-80 left, debating them with the audience (and chairing arguments between audience members), chucking in a dose of satire for good measure. At the end of the show, the audience voted for their favourite policy. The People’s Manifesto is the result – a list of the forty policies that won.

This is a short book that after a brief introduction simply lists out the forty policies, each with a one to four page summary of the rationale for its inclusion in the People’s Manifesto. Like his stage act, Thomas blends serious argument with humour to make each case, and I laughed several times as I worked my way through. I'm now thinking of using Thomas' method as an ice-breaker in a class I'm running in June on 'participation, praxis and policy'; should be interesting to see what people come up with. Whilst I was lukewarm to many of the proposed policies there were some that I think are worth exploring in more detail, including:

1. Party manifestos should be legally binding
3. [Marketing] Models should be chosen at random from the electoral roll
5. People who allow their dog to shit on the pavement without cleaning it up should be forced to wear it as a moustache
17. Everyone should be allowed to phone in work one day a month a claim a ‘fuck it’ day off.
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
23. There should be a public referendum before going to war
25. There should be an age of consent for religion
30. To introduce a Tobin tax on currency transactions
33. The garment trade should print the age of the person who made each item in the label.
36. The CEOs and board members of any company convicted of fraud should be forced to dress as pirates in whatever job they get in the future.

My major gripe is that the book is too short. Much, much too short. A small format book, it only takes an hour or so to whisk through it, and all of the entries would have benefited from further explication as they all offered loads of opportunity for a more detailed analysis and satire. Basically, I wanted more! More about the shows, more about the policies that made it into the book, and more about the ones that didn’t. Otherwise an amusing way to pass an hour and get a dose of political sensibilities.

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