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Review of books

May 2010
spiked review of books
Radical snobbery

Brendan O’Neill

Radical snobbery

Comedian Mark Thomas’s ‘People’s Manifesto’ confirms that no one is more suspicious and disdainful of the masses today than the worn-out, disillusioned rump of the radical left.

The funniest election result on 6 May probably passed most of you by. It wasn’t Esther Rantzen losing her deposit (and what meagre shred of respectability she had left) in Luton South. It wasn’t the ousting of cheeky cheeky Lembit Opik in Montgomeryshire. It wasn’t even the fact that under Nick Clegg – who had been appointed by the chattering classes as the High Representative of liberal, cosmopolitan, Waitrosean values – the Lib Dems actually lost seats. No, the most grin-inducing result was in Bristol West, where an independent called Danny Kushlick came sixth with 343 votes.

Normally there wouldn’t be anything especially chucklesome about an independent candidate doing badly. But Kushlick was standing on a ticket of ‘The People’s Manifesto’, no less, a document drawn up by left-wing comedian Mark Thomas (I say comedian. I say left-wing) and modestly described as ‘the ultimate political manifesto’. For all its radical pretensions, Thomas’s intolerant document actually highlights the sneeriness and cynicism of what remains of the radical left. It is a work of high radical snobbery, jam-packed with disdain for, rather than faith in, the toiling masses.

Throughout history a lot of dodgy individuals have claimed to speak on behalf of ‘The People’, but Thomas’s might just be the most dubious claim yet. By ‘The People’ he actually means members of his audiences, who were asked, during his recent stand-up tour, to come up with policies for a manifesto. The idea that the kind of people who attend Mark Thomas gigs represent the people really is funny. Simply the fact that they enjoy being bombarded with radical-liberal prejudices camouflaged badly as gags – Coca-Cola is evil! Rupert Murdoch is Satan! – should be evidence enough that they aren’t like normal folk. If you need further evidence, take a look at their collected policy proposals.

They’re obsessed with dog shit, in that way that miserable, moaning tossers tend to be. Loads of Thomas’s audience members suggested instituting new laws to punish people who allow their dogs to take a dump on the streets. ‘If a dog owner lets their dog shit on your doorstep, you should be able to shit on theirs’, says one. ‘f someone allows their dog to shit on your doorstep, then you should be able to shit upon their head’, says another. Two audience members said the government should keep a DNA sample of every dog’s shit and then set up a ‘multimillion-pound dog-turd database so that police could work backwards to track down the offenders’.

In the end – spoilt for choice on the burning question of how to get dog shit off the streets – Thomas opted to include the following proposal in his People’s Manifesto: ‘People who allow their dog to shit on the pavement without cleaning it up should be forced to wear it as a moustache.’ It’s Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life meets Dirty Sanchez, where the blue-haired, Mary Whitehouse-style conservativism of being obsessed with what disgusting people allow their disgusting dogs to do on my doorstep is sexed-up with some talk of shit-moustaches to give it a radical gloss.

The manifesto continually adds a dash of surrealism to its miserabilist proposals in an attempt to make them appear funny ha ha rather than funny authoritarian. One proposal is that ‘There should be an age of consent for religion’, which would aim to ‘balance the rights of religious freedom and the rights of the child by setting an age limit on religion’. That is, mums and dads should be prevented by law from bringing up children under the age of 14 in a religious faith.

Never has there been a more graphic illustration of what ‘children’s rights’ really represent: the watering down of the real rights of adults, in this case the right of adults to have the freedom of belief to bring up their children in whatever moral fashion they see fit. To take the edge off this proposal to invite the filth into the most intimate relations of ordinary families, Thomas says: ‘This policy will prevent children entering mosques, temples, synagogues and churches until they are 14 and will be enforced with a height bar, just like those at funfairs and adventure parks.’ See? It’s funny to increase the power of the state over families!

Daily Mail-bashing echoes earlier snobs who said ‘the rabble vomit their bile and call it a newspaper’

With yawning predictability, Thomas’s audience members proposed enforcing sanctions against 4x4 drivers. ‘4x4 drivers should be forced to drive everywhere off-road, even to Sainsbury’s’; ‘4x4 drivers should be forced to drive their vehicle sitting on the roof in a deckchair with a long steering column’, etczzz. No one went quite as far as an artist who attended the Guardian’s launch of its climate-change initiative last year – who suggested that 4x4 drivers should ‘spend a night in the cells’ – but the Two Minutes Hate against 4x4 drivers in Thomas’s manifesto confirms what they have become in the mean, envious, thrifty imaginations of the agitated middle classes: symbols of unacceptable ambition, affronts to the top-down ideological demand that we should all live as meekly (and naturally) as sheep. ‘4x4 driver’ is effectively code for ‘nouveau riche’ – people with ideas above their station (wagon).

And there are two policy proposals on the Daily Mail in The People’s Manifesto, out of 40 proposals in total, such is its alleged threat to the reading public’s mental health. ‘The Daily Mail should be forced to print on the front page of every edition the words: “This is a fictionalised account of the news and any resemblance to the truth is entirely coincidental”’, says the first; ‘The Daily Mail should be forced to print the words “The paper that supported Hitler” on its masthead’, says the second. The operative word in both instances is ‘forced’. In the feverish Mail-fearin’ minds of contemporary radicals nothing is more attractive than the idea of the British state – which of course never distorts the truth or had any dodgy dealings with Hitler prior to the war – forcing a newspaper effectively to brand itself with a modern-day mark of Cain, singling it out as Completely And Utterly Beyond The Pale (As Decided By Guardian Readers).

Thomas says these proposals are not born from a ‘desire to stigmatise the paper’. Yes they are. What drives Mail-bashing is the rather mad idea that it’s the only paper with a penchant for sensationalism and the censorious idea that its words translate directly into prejudicial public behaviour, as if its readers are sponges waiting to soak up whatever nonsense the Rothermere clan is spouting. And who are these readers? Thomas favourably quotes Stephen Fry describing the Mail as ‘a paper that no one of any decency would be seen dead with’. Ah, so its readers are the indecent, Them, the fickle, suggestible mob. This is a modern-day, ‘humour’-tinged version of the anti-newspaper snobbery of earlier elitists, who, as John Carey documented in The Intellectuals and the Masses, said ‘the rabble vomit their bile and call it a newspaper’ (1).

Thomas’s proposals on politics are so dripping in cynicism that you could almost scoop it up, bottle it, and sell it to students. He suggests ‘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’. Most strikingly, for someone who claims to be a fan of the Chartists, and even their political heir (another brilliant joke), he proposes: ‘MPs should not be paid wages but loans…because they get highly paid jobs after they graduate from Westminster’.

One of the nineteenth-century Chartists’ great democratic demands was that members of parliament should be paid a wage, so that even a man without a pot or a window but with some political convictions could choose to run for office, alongside those moneyed lords and barons. Thomas’s loan proposal would rewind history and make parliament once more the preserve of those with no financial headaches.

For a true taste of why Thomas’s audience members are not ‘The People’, consider the following policy proposed during a gig in Darlington: ‘Institute the “Sky test” on benefit claimants, so if you suck on the teat of Murdoch, no benefits for you.’ In other words, explains Thomas, ‘if you are unemployed and have Sky, you get your benefits cut’. What a cast-iron confirmation of the spite that lurks behind apparently radical, anti-capitalistic Murdoch-bashing. What presents itself as a critique of a massive media mogul is in fact a profound discomfort with the dumb automatons who lap up the media mogul’s produce, whether it’s Sky, the Sun or whatever.

Most manifestos put forward ideas for creating a better world – this one only moans about a world apparently smeared in dog turd and peopled by parents who religiously brainwash their kids and lazy spongers who suck Rupert’s nips all day long. It confirms that the most poisonous snobbery leaks from those sections of society most cut off from the masses, in this case the remnants of the disappointed, disgruntled, radical left. The wonder is that even 343 people voted for this steaming pile of dog dirt.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.

Mark Thomas Presents the People’s Manifesto, by Mark Thomas, is published by Ebury. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

(1) The Intellectuals and the Masses, John Carey, Faber & Faber, 1992

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