Its the STUPID Economy

It’s the Stupid Economy, that’s that was the title of Mark Thomas’s gig at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. Two hours plus, of fast paced improvisation and observational anecdotes, about the state of the world. It invited audience to participate in writing a manifesto, which  Mark will campaign around.

Amnesty had been contacted by NO2ID to help out at the gig in Belfast, so we donned our fluorescent orange waistcoats and enacted the parts of manifesto controllers. Our role was to give the audience as they came in a piece of paper to write down their ideas for what they would like included in a manifesto.   It could be as idealistic as they wanted, but this would also be the bare bones of Mark’ comedy act. These would then be voted upon at the end of the gig and a Belfast point would be added to the manifesto. Our trusty bunch of  Amnesty volunteers knew that their role was crucial to the action. No ideas. No show. So we bullied and cajoled ( in a  pleasant Amnesty/ human rights based approach fashion of course) and managed to get the ballot boxes filled.

The act then comprised of Mark showing how he had already put some of the ideas suggested into action. For example: Margaret Thatcher should have to pay for her own funeral.

Its shocking ( though not entirely surprising) the absolutely visceral hatred so many still feel for Margaret Thatcher, thirty years after her election in May 1979. Many of the suggestions on the downloadable postcards available from Marks website are sentiments I have heard at various times, although not as creatively expressed.  This was the manifesto commitment chosen by Hudderfield, which was right at the heart of the miners strike and where feeling still run high. Not included but the one which got the biggest laugh was that she whould be pickled in formaldehyde and mounted a-la Damien Hurst in Hudderfield's Museum of Mining.

 What was clear as the show progressed was that although humorous and entertaining there ws a very solid campaigning point at the heart. Poverty, inequity and the attacks on our civil liberties are not inevitable they are manmade and it our responsibility to hold our MPs to account to ensure they work in the publics interest. They are our public servants after all. The present government seem to  mired in the same sleaze and lack of accountability  or ideas that the Tories were at he end of their term in 1997. And Mark's idea?  Well coming hot on the heels of the Peers for cash scandal he suggested that we all club together and "buy" a Lord. Perfect.

Its worth looking at the Manifesto some of the points are a bit regionally specific but almost all are just plain common sense. From protecting NHS whistle blowers instead of sacking then to publishing MPs expenses in local newspapers and getting constituents to vote on whether they will be accepted or not. Indeed Mark through a challenge out to a representaive for one of our weekly newspapers. He claimed that a friend was drawing up a indices which you could put information such as how many days the MP attened parliament, how many times they spoke, how mant amendments they tabled or signed, how many times they defied the whip, their expenses and other relevant info, to give them a percentage for effectiveness and value for money. He challenged the newspaper to run the results of this.

I was particularly impressed on the section on civil liberties and his Stop and Search cards which again are dowloadable. I have blogged before about my fears that our civil liberties are constantly being eroded in the name of security. Human Rights/ Civil Liberties same thing in my mind. I know that human rights are universal  and civil libertiesare enjoyed by the citizen. However, an attack on one is an attack on the other.  Allowing the police free reign to stop who they like with or without suspicion that they are committing a crime is putting far too much power in the hands of a body not equipped to exercise that power. We see time and time again that stop and search is used massively disproportionately against ethnic minorities and this causes a break down in trust in the contract between the police and communities.  These cards are brilliant! I have got one for all of my friends.

 I had already watched a video on The guardian website about his determination to destroy his DNA and fingerprints, which had been kept by the police, despite the case against him being thrown out of court.  He had honed this anedote to perfection and it brought the house down. It did make me stop and think though…he is a well connected comedian who has many lawyers as friends and understands his rights and legal procedure, what about the 850 000 other innocent people on the data-base with out that knowledge. As a postscript to this Mark has just blogged on CIFabout his response to Jacqui Smith planning to keep the DNA of innocent people on file for 6-12 years. Is there no end to this governments determination to go down in history as the most illiberal government in history?

 So what were the manifesto commitments voted on by the crowd in Belfast? To extend the 1967 abortion act to Northern Ireland and to outlaw the wearing of Pyjamas in the street. On the first point Amnesty is neutral and on the second…I think that we would have to uphold the rights of pyjama wearers to wear what they want when they want. But I have to say, I personally find on-street pyjama-wearing offensive!

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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