I wish Mark Thomas still had his show on Channel 4. I miss his left wing take on life as well as his ability to expose and amplify the weaknesses of corporations and governments. Luckily he still writes books and apparently he still pops up on Radio 4, though I've yet to catch any of his shows.
The People's Manifesto is a short book published at the conclusion of Thomas' 2009 It's the Stupid Economy tour and a couple of radio shows. He toured the UK asking audiences what polities they'd like to see implemented, and held a vote at the end of each evening. A selection of the winning policies were published.
"4x4 drivers should be forced to drive everywhere off-road, even to Sainsburys."
"Anyone with a 4x4 in a city must also volunteer for the nearest mountain rescue service."
"Those in favour of ID cards should be banned from having curtains. Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear."
"Goats are to be released on to the floor of the House of Commons (no more than four); MPs are forbidden from referring to them ever."
There's a lot of common sense in amongst the more random and surreal suggestions from the public. While understanding that the issue is complicated, I have a sympathy with the ten reasons to legalise drugs, though Thomas always finds a way to comically cut through the mature analysis.
"Illegal drugs are often impure ... cocaine is cut with baby milk powder, making life very difficult for liberals boycotting Nestle products."
The audiences had much to say about MPs.
"MPs should have no job other than that of MP ... There are few other jobs in the public sector where people are encouraged to moonlight as part of their job description. You don't see many teachers abandoning a class to give a speech for Swiss banking conglomerates, declaring, 'If all I did was teach you'd end up with very bland teachers.'"
The policy suggested and voted for by the Northern Ireland audience was a series one.
"To introduce the 1967 Abortion Act into Northern Ireland ... I confess to being shocked whem the Belfast audience voted for the policy ... Until then, I thought that Northern Ireland operated under the same rules as the rest of the UK. But no, the law that applies in Belfast is the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, a statute that was created before women could even vote, let alone voice concerns over their reproductive rights. This law is so antiquated that Section 26 of the Act makes it an offence for a master or mistress to inadequately feed or clothe a servant."
Thomas goes on to explain reference Dawn Purvis' attempts to get the legislation introduced, and the other local party's opposition claiming that affording women reproductive rights would damage the peace process. He finishes with the observation that
"... the British government is willing to support the fight for abortion rights around the world [through the Department for International Development] - just not in Northern Ireland, the one place where they could make most progress really, really easily."
Another ethical manifesto policy came in the guise of
"The garment trade should print the age of the person who made each item in the label ... Perhaps surprisingly, 'cheap' doesn't always mean lowest standards: the 2009 report by Labour Behind the Label gave Gap and Primark a better write-up than Debenhams and John Lewis."
Since we're on the eve of a General Election, it's opportune to mention the policy suggestion
"To introduce 'None Of The Above' on ballot papers."
This would allow constituency elections to be re-run with "proper candidates" if the public disapproved of the selection, and it might help politicians and parties "to reconnect with the electorate in the prospect of losing to an empty chair".