Comedian/performer/political activist/all-round affable everyman Mark Thomas has, since early September, been running a series of shows around the country, most recently ending up at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, London. The premise?
Each audience gets to nominate their favourite ideas to make Britain a better place and decide a policy for the Manifesto, which Mark will examine, road test and then make these policies a reality…or at least try to…At the end of the tour, Mark will take the policies to politicians in a public debate to see if any of the ideas can become a reality.
It’s a great concept, and I for one was curious to see how it panned out. So, the aforementioned finale to the tour was a debate on Saturday with four London Assembly Members – Jenny Jones (Greens), Joanne McCartney (Labour), Andrew Boff (Conservative) and Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dems).
A selection of policies from the last few weeks were put to the panel, who offered their opinions on whether or not they agreed with them, and the feasibility of being able to adopt and push them forward. The topics ranged from the whimsical to the profound, covering everything from introducing a national holiday celebrating evolution (‘Darwin Day’) to establishing a ‘Prohibition of Deception Act’ making it officially illegal for MPs to knowingly lie about public affairs.
Also on the bill were proposals to select models at random from the electoral register, mandatory war referendums, and forcing MPs to wear the logos of all the companies with which they have financial links. There were some policy proposals that warranted rather interesting discussions on the panel…
Crisp packets must be filled to the top
Apart from the initial grievance of opening a bag of crisps only to find it half full of air, there is a more serious point to be made here. Andrew Boff observed that empty packets equals more waste; moreover, his suggestion that “because of the costs of landfill, packaging should really have an overhead” warranted a loud cheer from the audience.
There have long been rumblings that about the blame of supermarkets for buying and stocking ridiculously over-packaged food items. Whilst there has been slowly increasing pressure forcing more responsible use of materials, it would be great to see this taken further.
Close down tax havens
This is a regular on the political debate circuit, and often a lot more difficult to implement than it is to imagine up. Mark was right when he said that the refrain “we need international consensus” is a cop-out, particularly if you are to use that as an excuse to not bother trying in the first place. Especially when we’re talking about an £18.5bn annual loss to the taxpayer. He also suggested that the argument that we’ll ‘drive away’ the big earners by enforcing taxation is fallacious, because they’ve largely already gone (hence the argument about tax havens to begin with).
One interesting proposal that came up was a TOBIN tax. I’ve never heard of this before, but apparently it’s a tax on the trade of currency, in order to deter short-term speculation. Basically the argument is that even if you levy the tiniest stamp duty on trading, the dividends are massive, and as Stamp Out Poverty supporters advocate, can be used for international social justice. Call it balancing up the scales a tiny bit, if you will.
Introduce a maximum wage
Whilst this is quite the challenging thought experiment, the possibilities are interesting. Jenny Jones suggested that perhaps there should be a ‘formula’ to which everyone’s wages are bound. The average wage in the UK is about £25k, so for example the highest salary could be limited to the average six-fold, making the top wage £150k. There’s little argument for being left wanting with an income like that.
The myth of ‘trickle-down’ economics means that statistics emerge whereby the richest fifth have a gross income sixteen times higher than the poorest fifth. Andrew got it spot on when he said “if it’s trickling down, it’s not trickling down very far”.
By the end, the two issues that the four panel members agreed to actively push forward were:
(1) To pressurise Mayor Boris Johnson to finally fund the rape crisis centres that he loudly pledged in his manifesto. Essentially there was a big electoral fanfare promising to admirably cut from the PR office and directly fund the one remaining centre providing support for the entire city (of 7 million). Also, he proposed three new ones across the city, which in his typically self-congratulatory manner, he points out “is more than the number of centres existing even in 2000”.
The problem? It’s not materialised, despite promises of ‘acting immediately’ is a saga worthy of an entire article itself, but in the interim I’ll re-direct you to the Boris Keep Your Promise campaign.
(2) To push for asylum-seekers’ opportunity to work (and contribute to the economy and so on) after six months if they are still waiting upon their Right to Remain decision. There is more information on this over at The Refugee Council.
All in all it was a worthwhile afternoon. I got the opportunity to grab Mark after the debate, and I asked him a few questions about his experience of doing this series of shows, and what he’d taken away from it:
What’s your experience of these kinds of shows, because it’s a relatively new concept? I think people often find themselves ‘apathetic’, and feel it’s difficult to find a way in.
What’s interesting is; that having toured this show for about 100 shows what’s fascinating is that actually every night somebody produces an idea that no one else has thought of – every night there’s a new idea.
I would’ve thought there’d be trends?
There are trends, and there are issues that are constantly popping up – but what’s interesting is that amongst a whole load of ideas, there’s always something you never expect, always something new. And actually, this whole idea that we’re not interested in politics is nuts, because people are always coming up with ideas…
Yep, everyone has opinions…
Not just opinions, but solutions. People come up with solutions, and that’s what’s interesting – that actually, given the chance, people do put forward these things. Politically, the ideas come from the grassroots, and then actually get put up to the politicians; this is the great bit, right here. I think that this is the way it should be, and this is how democracy should work – not the other way around.