This is NOT the official weblog of Mark Thomas; this is a place to post his articles and news to bring them to a wider audience. This blog is in no way endorsed by the activist/comedian Mark Thomas. Most of the posts appeared on - hopefully they won't object to them being republished here.

Monday, April 26, 2004

On trial for criminal damage

The police are jittery. At RAF Fairford last year, a friend had his toothbrush confiscated by policemen who thought it could be used to commit criminal damage. The officer asked: "What do you intend to do with this?" The reply - "Fight truth decay?" - almost got him arrested.

In another incident, a protester was forced to remove a T-shirt with the words "Fuck Bush" on it because the garment could lead to a breach of the peace.

At a demonstration in March at RAF Menwith Hill, the US spy base, Professor Dave Webb was arrested for "being in possession of a PA system with intent to cause criminal damage". Logically, the police must have believed he was about to launch an attack on the heavily armed US marines with an amplifier or mike stand.

If T-shirts, toothbrushes and PA systems are that much of a threat, then either the struggle against capitalism is going much better than expected and the system is on the verge of total collapse, or a cadre of surrealists has infiltrated the police force and police will shortly be baton-charging protesters armed with huge floppy giraffes and large fried eggs as shields.

Last year, the long arm of the surrealists felt my collar. And on 13 April, along with three other defendants, I appeared at Stratford Magistrates' Court, east London, charged with criminal damage to a minibus anti-roll bar to the tune of £80. The two-day trial, which resulted in the acquittal of myself, Steve Selby, "Fisheye" and Bobby Kool Van Kleff*, cost the taxpayer roughly £10,000.

It all started during the protests at the DSEi arms fair at the ExCeL exhibition centre in London's Docklands last year. A group of friends and I stopped a minibus full of BAe Systems people travelling to the fair, attempting to delay and obstruct their weapons-flogging fest. While some people stood in front of the bus to stop it moving, the "four defendants" slipped under the bus and attached ourselves to the underside by our necks and hands with bike D-locks and handcuffs.

At this point, some readers may disapprove of our actions, but I don't care if you do. You can "tut" in front of the television news or write as many letters to your MP as you like. BAe Systems remains well funded and protected by the government despite the allegations of slush funds and corrupt deals. It shifts Hawk jets to India at a time of conflict with Pakistan, refurbishes howitzers for the Moroccans in the occupied territory of Western Sahara, and provides "head-up" displays for the US fighter jets being sold to Israel. A group of soap-dodgers attaching themselves, with no violence or damage, to the company bus should be the least of BAe's worries.

The case was as weird as it was wasteful. The three lay magistrates, drawn probably from the great and the good within the small-business community, gave the whole proceedings an air of "trial by Rotarian". The prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service had the demeanour of a New Deal trainee. Every time he stood up to interject he looked as if he was seeking permission to go to the toilet, rather than making a point of law.

The only people who smiled were the police called to give evidence. They were generally friendly and, if caught on their own, would roll their eyes heavenwards and mutter: "CPS! Couldn't Prosecute Satan!" At stages, the proceedings were so tedious that the only way to stay awake was to keep an eye on which magistrate was nodding off, which they did in turns. A Mexican wave, but more of a Mexican nap.

The entire thing was based on a police statement that said we had deliberately scratched the entire length of the anti-roll bar to which two of us were attached, leaving gouges and exposed bare metal. This was proved to be false. An independent expert scientifically proved that no damage had occurred. So the CPS brought a case of criminal damage without really checking if any damage had occurred.

Our solicitor, Andrew Katzen, has represented 33 of the 44 people arrested at the DSEi protests. Four have pleaded guilty to crimes as heinous as carrying paint and stink bombs; three have been found guilty, though one is appealing against the decision, and the other 26 (80 per cent) have had their case dropped or been acquitted.

Compare that to BAe Systems. Their alleged payments of more than £6m into slush funds held by the Qatar foreign minister at the time of an arms deal were not investigated after the Jersey authorities deemed it "not in the public interest".

* It is a fact that many activists involved in direct action do have names that suggest they are not real people, but created by Jim Henderson for minor parts in Muppet capers.

For information on May Day action on the arms-fair promoters Spearhead, visit

Monday, April 12, 2004

My new think-tank will cure voter apathy

The chairman of the Electoral Commission, Sam Younger, is worried that turnout could fall to less than 50 per cent at the next general election. This would give anarchists the all-important statistic to proclaim victory. The state will immediately collapse, as anarchos proudly declare: "We have a mandate not to govern the country!" Crowds waving black flags will spill on to the streets for a victory celebration, as bailiffs are sent in to Downing Street to evict Blair for squatting. Obviously, the Blair family wouldn't be homeless for long--if the worst came to the worst, they could always stay at one of the Meachers' 12 properties.

Younger claims that voter apathy "may open the door for extremists", apparently unaware that the illegal invasion of a country, the introduction of internment without trial, and selling arms to every human-rights abuser left of al-Qaeda is hardly the work of moderates. Parliament is worried that its moral authority would be undermined, and if it had any I would agree.

Polls are commissioned and think-tanks funded to investigate our apparent apathy. And the conclusions are ... we don't trust politicians. Well, sprinkle my latte with cinnamon! Not trusted, you say? Money well spent for that insight, say I. That anyone in a coma for the past ten years could have told you that is irrelevant.

"People are not interested in politics," cry the pundits. But what was the anti-war movement, if not political? What the pundits mean is that "people are not interested in the politics we want them to be interested in". Namely, voting for a particular brand. The declining interest in party politics might be linked to the fact that on every major issue from the invasion of Iraq through genetically modified crops to the privatisation of the Tube or safety on the railways, people's strongly held opinions have been ignored by government.

A "Big Conversation"? We are merely waiting for them to say: "We've listened, now fuck off!"

Our vote has been devalued. There is now little difference between the mainstream political parties. Economically, they all inhabit the same ground, pro-big-business and pro-privatisation. If we can't determine how our utilities, transport and industry are run, how can this be a democracy?

A senior figure in the World Trade Organisation said that, once a country signs up to the WTO, it is committed to a rolling process of privatisation. It is like putting on "a golden straitjacket"; and once the economics are set in stone, political parties converge to inhabit the same ground. That is where we are now.


In spite of this, there are options. First, we can continue to pay shedloads of public money to think-tanks to come up with quick-fix ideas such as voting in supermarkets or on the toilet or introducing free bar snacks at polling stations. Frankly, this looks like easy money, so I am setting up my own think-tank. I haven't got a name for it yet, but it will feature the words "public", "policy", "rope", "money" and "old".

Here are the considered opinions of my think-tank.

If you want the status quo to continue, but an increased turnout, don't bother with easier postal voting or online stuff. Introduce tear-off coupons on the bottom of voting slips that offer discounts on popular brands. Not only would this get my grandmother voting, but she would ensure the rest of the family voted, too, because "you'll not leave those going begging".

Give it a bit more razzmatazz. Get Davina McCall and Patrick Kielty to host the election. There is no factual basis for this proposal, other than that the process couldn't be any more irrelevant than it is already. And the government could raise 25p on every vote texted.

Have fun with it. Introduce prizes and offer air miles for each election voted in! Make sure every election broadcast and debate has a swimwear competition. John Prescott and Ann Widdecombe in their Speedos would increase numbers of viewers just in terms of morbid fascination.

One thing that mistakenly got me to vote in 1997 was Jim Davidson's promise to leave the country should the Tories lose. So, should they lose again, let's enforce his offer with compulsory deportation--preferably to South Africa. Ben Elton to go should Labour lose. Bernard Manning to be deported as a promotional offer.

Or allow people to swap their vote here for a vote in America. That way, they would actually have a say in Britain's foreign policy. Let those interested in agricultural policy swap their vote for shares in Monsanto.

Alternatively, the electoral advances of the Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and various independents will continue to reflect the groundswell not of apathy but of anger. Instinctively, people have always mistrusted politicians, but maybe now more than ever they are aware that MPs need us more than we need them.