The People's Manifesto: Mark Thomas and friends' suggestions for UK political reform

UK political comedian Mark Thomas's new book is The People's Manifesto, and it contains a list of hilarious (and useful) wish-items for political reform in the UK, generated by Thomas's audiences during a UK standup tour. At each tour stop, Thomas asked his audience to write out political reforms they'd like to see, and then he'd read them aloud from the stage, riffing on them and letting the audience vote (by cheering) for their favourites. The People's Manifesto compiles the best of these, with hilarious and trenchant commentary from Thomas.

Here are some examples I quite liked:

There's a lot to these -- they're not just funny, many of them are eminently sensible. Like the dog-shit one.

The People's Manifesto


  1. My personal favourites from the BBC Radio 4 series of the tour were – “Able bodied people who park in disabled spaces should have their legs broken” and “When the Royal Family aren’t in residence, Windsor Castle should be opened to homeless people.”

  2. I just tweeted the “Maximum Salary” one, slightly edited, and attributed in a follow-up tweet! Absolutely brilliant!

  3. Mark Thomas is a national treasure. What a shame he couldn’t join our glorious new coalition government

  4. Does anyone know the typeface used on the book cover? It’s the same as the “Keep Calm And Carry On” one isn’t it?

    1. Probably Johnston; it’s the font used for the London Underground corporate ID. If you can’t afford that, then Gill Sans is fairly close.

  5. These are great. And, as funny as “MPs should not paid wages but loans” is, it’s not a sensible idea. It’s tarring all MPs with one brush. Many MPs serve their time “properly”, representing after their constituents and attending parliament frequently. I think it would be unfair to make people (they’re people, remember!) like that have to pay money back.

    1. Maybe, like student loans, they might only become eligible to pay them back once they earn above a threshold (once that might reasonably indicate corruption)? Set the basic rate of interest to match inflation (ie around base rate) and then you don’t saddle the low earners with unmanageable debt.

      The real pisser with student loans is that once you start paying them back (once you earn £17k) the interest rate becomes compound rather than basic, but the amount you pay off on low salaries is very small – less than the interest you earn. So you’re fine until you hit the earnings threshold, but once you do you have to increase your salary quickly or spiral into debt.

      For example, I graduated in 2004, with a moderately low loan amount of about £10,000. When I hit £17k in 2007, I had a debt of about £11,000, and I started paying off about £12 a month. My salary hit approximately £28,500 before my payments actually exceeded the compound interest on the loan, by which point I owed about £12.5k. Not such a problem for me – I’ve been really fucking lucky. But the average salary in the UK is about £22-23k, and as more people attend a university, a larger proportion of graduates are going to be earning around or below this salary for longer/forever. These graduates are completely fucked. How long do you have to be sat around the mean salarly before your loan is impossible to pay off regardlessof salary? Scary thought – especially as university fees have been getting steadily de-regulated over time since I was a student.

      1. I agree Anony Mouse. I graduated 8 years ago and only now am I earning £20k a year (and have been for 3 years). I pay £56 a month into my student debt and that doesn’t even cover the interest over a year. The amount I owe has just been going up steadily since I graduated. Seems a bit pointless to me that it’s even being paid. At this rate I’m never going to be rid of it!!

  6. might i add:
    1) groups of 3 or more and armlocked couples walking on sidewalks–when oncoming walkers approach, do not be douchebags and continue consuming the entire width of the sidewalk. there are other douchebags that left their dog shit in the grass. do not make others walk around you and step into the grass.
    2) bikes on sidewalks–that is fine, but do not ride fast through people, this goes for skaters too–don’t be dicks

  7. I realise it’s all a joke but the loans for MPs is retarded. You’re forcing them to be corrupt after they leave office.

    The reason they get highly paid jobs is because of their knowledge of the system they just came from, and their contacts within it. So taking any job in an industry connected to their previous government position is corrupt.

    This is being looked at in parliament soon, I think, and hopefully they’ll find a good solution. Currently you’re not allowed to lobby within 2 years. I think that should be extended to consulting as well and extended to 5 years. To be frank I don’t know why MPs can’t earn a living doing an honest job after they leave office which doesn’t involve exploiting the position they were given by UK citizens.

    1. And yet “They can afford to pay it back because of their subsequent high paid jobs” is the same argument politicians used when reducing Student Grants to bare minimums and replacing them with student loans, so that any student in the UK who doesn’t come from a rich family starts their post graduate life with a massive debt hanging over their head.

      Sauce for the goose, etc.

    2. “So taking any job in an industry connected to their previous government position is corrupt.”

      And nobody should ever take a new job with a competitor to their current employer either? Get real. Having been an MP is on their CV and like everyone else looking for a job, using one’s past experience is par for the course. Or are they a special case? So should we give them all big re-training grants when they stop being MPs, so they can take up entirely unrelated careers?

      1. Of course MPs are a special case. To become an MP you make a promise to the electorate to serve them; if you use the contacts and knowledge you gained in office to subvert the normal democratic process then you’re obviously breaking that promise.

        They don’t need to take up totally unrelated careers since the ban would only last a couple of years. Many private companies do make their employees sign non-compete agreements. The employees accept this when they take on the job and it works out ok. The idea is to make their insider information less relevant, not their entire body of knowledge.

        1. Felix
          Thank you for clarifying your position (and softening it somewhat. ‘Cos that’s not what you said first time round. (I made the key word bold.)

          “So taking any job in an industry connected to their previous government position is corrupt.

          But it is ok after a couple of years, is that it? And who said they were all taking such positions so as “to subvert the normal democratic process”? Apparently you assumed that before.

          Oh, and IANAL but I have been advised that non-compete agreements are in many (most) cases non-enforceable. Restraint of trade.

  8. Yeah a lot of people naively jump on that Maximum Salary idea, until they consider how it would work out in practice. Where would you set the cap? How about $1 million per year? Who needs more than that, right? But the Dallas Mavericks are currently paying Jason Kidd about $20 million per year. The team must think it’s getting at least that much value out of him, so capping his salary at $1 million would simply hand the team $19 million. Why shouldn’t an individual reap the value of his worth to his employer? And if that applies to basketball players, why shouldn’t it apply to the CEOs of corporations?

    1. Perhaps a maximum salary as a set multiple of the lowest salary any organization pays any of its employees is the way to look at this.

          1. Really? Can you give an example or explanation? Since many low ranking jobs are already outsourced (cleaners or security for example) it seems unlikely. Agency staff are also not employed directly by the company.

            Also it gives a massive handicap to national companies. In the basketball example above, if the Mavericks want to recruit Jason Kidd who has a market price of $20m but their multiple-of-lowest-paid-staff limits them to $5m then maybe he’ll go play for a foriegn team who can pay closer to what he’s worth. Arguing that they could pay their staff more is ridiculous if they have hundreds of staff and the opportunity to buy a very expensive player comes along suddenly.

            I’m all for fairness in pay, but this seems a very shoddy way to go about it. Seen another way around, it’s the same as introducing a specific minimum wage for every company which is a proportion of the highest earner. This prejudices certain business models and industries for no good reason; they might be paying their staff good wages and just have very high earners too.

    2. Easy answer; CEOs are meant to be legally obliged deliver shareholder value, but there are many studies indicating that they do not; certainly that they do not deliver commensurately with their pay. Take Marks and Spencer as an example. Though AGMs appear to deliver democracy, it’s actually very difficult for shareholders to resist board decisions or assert their will.

    3. “The team must think it’s getting at least that much value out of him, so capping his salary at $1 million would simply hand the team $19 million.” —
      So? ‘the team’ then has 19M$ more. It spends that money on other people (190 more people get 100k$. fine by me). It uses the money to do some youth sports (lookout for new players, but also great social works). Or it simply reduces income by lowering costs to the ones around it.

    4. Because unlike basketball there are no rules to being a CEO. A basketball player is measured empirically on performance. A CEO can not be measured on performance because of the lack of rules. They could easily increase turnover by signing up a load of contracts that would lose hundreds of millions in 10 years time. They could increase profit by sacking 1/3 of the workforce (the reaction to which would generally be an increase in productivity followed by problems several years later). He could use acounting mechanisms (aka Enron) to hide loss making businesses. He could create structured investment vehicles that cause countries to come to the edge of bankruptcy. All of his measure happen years after he/she has left where as a basketball player gets measured every hour(?) they play to a set of rules everyone understand and everyone can see exactly how they are performing.

  9. I assumed the maximum wage applied to politicians only, although reading again it doesn’t say that. Are those bulletpoints verbatim, Cory?

    A maximum wage has many disadvantages compared to progressive taxation.

  10. I heard Mark Thomas in Cardiff and he was brilliant. The policy we came up with that evening was “Criminals found guilt of homophobic assaults should be required to serve their prison sentence in drag.” Sound fair to me!

    1. Dennis Skinner is a great man and a great politician for the people. He and Tony Benn (my old MP) are amongst the shining beacons of decency that the rest of the political world attempt to hide under a dung-heap.

      That said, I understand that he used to claim quite a few phone calls to his mistresses on expenses. Not that that is in the same league as duck-pond-houses and forest maintainance and so forth – and I understand that overall his claims have been tiny. One can forgive a politician foibles and weaknesses, so long as they do not define their character and behaviour.

      As to you being one of his constituents – unlucky! Are you from Bozer? Any extra thumbs? Any teeth left? I used to live in the old school building in Stanfree, just down the bottom of the hill – after you turn right along the road to Clowne, past the Coalite works. Happy days.

  11. Japan has such a maximum salary cap, though even through a search I am at a loss for an easy summary as to how it functions. While Japanese executives do indeed get paid much less than Western counterparts, they are also compensated heavily in other ways – yachts, cars, airfare, residences, and other ‘gifts’ from the company.

    My point isn’t that the maximum salary cap is ineffective. Instead, it’s rather the mother who prevents the child from eating too many cookies. No matter how many you give the child, the child will always find a way to sneak a few extra.

  12. Anyone intending to watch scorzonera’s linked video (recommended!), take note that it expires at a minute to midnight tonight (Sat 15th May). So get in ASAP.

  13. I fully expected the link to take me to a CC version of the text. Unless he’s donating the proceeds to charity it seems a bit much for a guy making 100K pounds a year to make even more off an audience generated product.

  14. I used to hate Mark Thomas as a lefty whiner until this book came out. I think the fact that it’s funny, and yet many of the suggestions are fundamentally sensible is very interesting; on a meta-level both the sourcing of suggestions and the development of the humour is an illustration of democracy producing worthwhile results – illustrating that a decent proportion of electors are far better suited to government than the representatives that they get to choose between. It makes me wonder whether initial candidate selection should also be by and from the electorate (vis. the selection of fashion models in the book). It’s certainly a reinforcement of my belief that a kind of anarcho-syndicalism or ‘government by residents’ association’ would be beneficial.

    It also puts me in mind of something I learned once about the Monster Raving Loony Party. I read one of their early manifestos from the 60’s or something, and found that the only policy point that hadn’t in some form become law was the legalisation of all drugs. At the time the Labour government were talking about the relaxation of the law on cannabis, so it looked like a moral victory for Lord Such…

  15. I bought about six copies and gave them to friends & family.
    The best suggestion was having manefesto promises legally binding, but the funniest didn’t make it into the manefesto itself: replaceing all the laws with “Being out of order” and “Being BANG out of order!” (obviously some geezer from South London)

  16. So why not tax all earnings above £1 million at 80 or 90%? That way, the company is still free to employ those “essential” executives, they just need to decide if they are really worth the extra money it would require to give them an effective salary of £20m. In the cases outlined above, it might well be; in the case of most bloated and disparate executive remuneration packages, I strongly suspect it wouldn’t be.

    The distortion that occurs in the market as a result of some people being on minimum wage while others can “earn” sums in the tens of millions is one of the leading causes of social inequality in our society today. Try buying a house in London on £5.93 an hour; it’s impossible because there is a finite supply of buildings, and a growing number of people taking home one hundred or a thousand times more than the 11k a year that minimum wage represents. What kind of society allows the top 1% of wage earners to destroy any quality of life for the bottom 20%?

    1. This is the ideal. Unfortunately as you increase taxation you also increase the marginal benefit of avoiding taxation. So it becomes cost effective to hire expensive accountants to move money around to avoid paying tax.

      i.e. say there’s an accountant who will cut your tax payments in half and costs £100,000. As soon as you start paying above £200,000 in taxes it makes sense to hire him.

      1. That’s very true, and it’s also the reason that large UK-based corporations pay less in taxes in real terms than those on minimum wage. It’s a sad fact that the UK is behind most of the tax havens used for this purpose, but just because this is the sad reality doesn’t mean we have to like or encourage the idea.

  17. The most interesting one I heard in the Radio 4 series was a law that the highest salary in a company should be something like 10 times the lowest one.

    This would have the strange consequence that in industrial disputes the union/employees would demand a pay cut from their boss

  18. and (more seriously):
    1) to be ellectible, one should pass a test: history, geography, economy, finance, politics etc…(after all, if driving requires a permit, so should the exercise of politics which is far more dangerous than driving).
    2) any politician who wishes to pass a law, should first propose to abolish 2 laws. (until a reasonable balance is reached by general concensus).

  19. The candidate put forward on theis manifesto at the last election was in my ward. He didn’t campaign, didn’t appears anywhere locally as it happens and as a result lost his deposit by only getting 343 votes out of 55,00 or so cast. So no matter how interesting your policy, unless you actually let people know about it, it will get nowhere.

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