Mark Thomas Review

Posted: 19th October 2006 by admin in General

As most of you who read this will not know, I am a massive fan of Mark Thomas, the stand up comedian and activist. For the last 4 years I have been booking tickets for his Huddersfield show as soon as the box office opens on the day of release. It always the same seats, what I consider the best seats in the house (circle, front row, central seats).

Over the last few years topics have included the Iraq war, political repression, workers rights in Columbia and campaigning again the presence of US bases in UK. This year however, I expected the show to be based mainly around the topics discussed in his new book “As used on the famous Nelson Mendela”, which describes how Mark becomes an arms dealer and discovers how easy it is to ship guns and other arms to pretty much any country in the world, including many known human rights abusers.

However I was pleasantly surprised when the first half of the show was spent discussing the SOCPA (Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005) legislation, and how to make a mockery of it. I have been following this on his web site, but hearing the stories live brought them to life. I’ll not try to paraphrase the act any better than the wikipedia entry

“The Act is controversial primarily for an additional, entirely unrelated provision, which restricts the right to demonstrate within an exclusion zone of up to one kilometre from any point in Parliament Square. Demonstrators have to apply to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police six days in advance, or if this is not reasonably practicable then no less than 24 hours in advance.”

The area around parliament square includes the following areas, so its quite a lot of central London really, this is again quoted from wikipedia

“The area itself is defined by a Statutory Instrument rather than the Act. It specifically excludes Trafalgar Square, a traditional site of protest on the northern boundary of the area. Apart from Parliament it also includes Whitehall, Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, the Middlesex Guildhall, New Scotland Yard, and the Home Office. It also covers a sliver of land on the other bank of the River Thames, including County Hall, the Jubilee Gardens, St Thomas’ Hospital and the London Eye.”

The recounting of the exasperated police officer who has to process all these requests was very entertaining, you even end up feeling sorry for the bloke in the end, who at the end of the day has to implement some half baked legislation, which was solely designed to evict a long term protester called Brian Haw, but failed in that purpose, as the act was worded as such that it only applied to demo’s commencing after the act became law, not those preceding the law.

Marks efforts to use this law to its advantage included

1) Having 150 people descending upon Charing Cross Station, each applying to have their own solo demo, at the same time and place as everybody else.

2) Applying for 21 demonstrations in 1 night, in 21 locations in the restricted area, at set times (he did this as if you have the demos at the same place, it is a “continuing” demo and only needs 1 form.

3) Applying to demonstrate on the footbridge in the restricted area, to hand out 1 leaflet campaigning to abolish foot bridges, to which the officers response was “You realise this will raise more paperwork than you are planning to distribute”

4) Applying to demonstrate for the removal of the officer who gives final approval for demonstrations.

However the best story was about the last demo in the 21 in 1 day attempt (which is now an official world record by the way). It had the unfortunate timing of being at the same time as the sack parliament demo, and about 800 police officers where present against about 80 demonstrators. He was advised not to go in as “we’ve drafted a lot of officers from surrounding counties who know fuck all about SOCPA and will arrest you anyway, and I don’t want the flack of dealing with a false arrest.”. Mark ended up being escorted by two police officers to stop him being arrested by the other police officers to do his legally applied for demo. By the way, its a lot better when mark tells the story!

The little mischievous boy in Mark come out in these sections and makes the stories a joy to listen to, and he brings them to life.

The second half of the show covered material dealt with in his book

I’ll not spoil too much for those of you who haven’t read the book yet. But about half of the this section dealt with his experiences when walking around DESI (DSEi Defense Systems & Equipment International Exhibition) in 2005, with a minder called Angus, who turns out to be goldmine of information, rather than a hindrance. In this section was the only repeated bit from last years show when describing the situation when he chained himself to a bus of delegates entering the exhibition area and was charged with criminal damage (he was cleared of all charges).

The second half of this bit was about his dealing with BBC, Newsnight, government select committees and the Hinduja Brothers selling Military Trucks to dodgy regimes. His verbalistion of the situation at the time is spot on, and you can pick up the lows and highs. From the legal hassle from the Hinduja brothers (yes, THE “Mandelson loans and resignation” Hinduja Brothers), to when he had the ability to air all this information in front of the Defense Exports Select Committee without worrying about being sued by them (due to parliamentary privilege

This second section is a bit more serious, but no less entertaining, with some very funny sections. Overall its a great show, it was nice to have a full show of mark this year rather than the half and half with Rob Newman last year. I would recommend the show to anybody.

By the way, if you check out, you find details of the monthly mass “solo” demonstration he organises and also details of remaining gigs on the tour which runs into late november / early december.