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, October 25, 2004

I like the idea of a Thatcher in jail

Whether it was out of a sense of revenge, prejudice or light relief, I do not know. What I do know, though, is that my cries of joy could be heard several miles away when I found out that Mark Thatcher had been arrested. On hearing of his alleged role in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea, I laughed so long and hard that I nearly had an Asbo served on me. If there is any justice in this world, his court case shall be the shortest prosecution in the history of the planet.

Prosecutor: "Your mother is Margaret Thatcher?"

Mark Thatcher: "Yes."

Prosecutor: "I rest my case."

Judge: "Indeed, as there is no such thing as society, just individuals within families, I can only conclude that I blame the parents."

OK, it wasn't his mum herself, but it was close enough, and surely her son's arrest would do some emotional damage. What if the courts find him guilty! She might even visit him in jail. Just enjoy for a moment the vision of this country's ex-prime minister, the point woman for globalisation, sitting alongside relatives of common or garden varieties of murderer and drug smuggler, having had to face the indignity of a strip-search in a developing world jail. The next time, dear reader, you are feeling depressed or downcast, all you have to do is summon up that mental image to feel a warm and life-affirming glow - a small beacon of cheer in these corporately callous times.

As I luxuriated in the potential downfall and definite discomfort of her oik offspring, I pondered, "How could this tale possibly get any better?"

Enter Jeffrey Archer and his cellphone.

Allegedly, Jeffrey's mobile phone has been in contact with the plotters of the alleged coup. The question is: who was on the cellphone and what was said? This I do not know the answer to. Because, after all, the famous author and one-time Tory peer and mayoral candidate might not have been on the phone at the time. He might have been doing something else - such as having dinner with an old friend who could vouch for him.

The alleged coup's aim was basically to remove a government, replace it with a puppet government and then grab loads of money from the country's oil resources . . . Hmm, that sounds a remarkably familiar storyline. Anyone else recognise the blueprint?

So it turns out that Jeffrey Archer is implicated in a plot which appears to have been plagiarised. Who would have thought it?

How could this tale possibly get any better? Well, being an atheist, I have little time for religion, but I did offer up one prayer, just on the off-chance that I am completely wrong: "O Lord, You have spoiled us already, what with Mark and Jeffrey, but could you see your way to somehow dragging the Hamiltons into this fiasco, too? Amen."

Just to give us a full set.

The plotters made a number of mistakes, including the fatal error of having a bunch of white mercenaries, led by an old Etonian, stop over in Zimbabwe to pick up the guns - an act so stunningly tactless and devoid of basic political nous that you could be forgiven for believing the idea was first mooted in the pages of the Spectator. The affair reeks of upper-class boys' games, and those involved, as well as being mercenaries, probably also cheated in their art exams.

If only the plotters had thought it through a little more carefully, they could have accused Equatorial Guinea of possessing weapons of mass destruction. A long shot, I know, but frankly there is a more credible chance of finding them there than there is in Iraq.

"But," you may cry, "how can you possibly compare the two events - the invasion of Iraq and the coup? You can't just charge into countries without legal justification and international support." Like, say... a UN resolution?

Even Kofi Annan has said that the invasion of Iraq needed a second resolution and that, without this, it was illegal. All right, he said it in typical UN fashion (ie, too late to have any effect), but his statements were made only 18 months after the invasion, and in UN years this is practically a prophecy. Surely an illegal mercenary force heading for Equatorial Guinea is just a boy-band version of Blair and Bush's larger designs, in which geopolitical gains are placed alongside mineral wealth to defy international law, and where the spoils of conflict get divvied up among the victor's backers.

Although Equatorial Guinea has no Saddam Hussein, it most certainly does have a bad human rights record - like just about every other African state with oil reserves.

Ironically, the Malabo regime comes out of this episode looking relatively clean. Most of Britain, in fact, had not even registered Equatorial Guinea as existing, but everyone here knows the Thatchers. And anyone who appears to be an enemy of a Thatcher looks damn good by comparison.

Friday, October 08, 2004

An open letter to a Minister

Open letter to Bill Rammell, parliamentary under-secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs (responsible for human rights)

Dear Bill,

Choosing to be a politician is an odd career path: so much power, so much state prestige, so much responsibility, and yet you couldn't really call it a proper job. Few children see the chamber of the House of Commons on TV and say, "When I grow up I want to do that." And if I ever heard one say that, I would seriously consider calling social services.

However, let us for a moment suspend disbelief, fly in the face of public opinion and experience, and assume that MPs go into politics with good intentions. I am sure that David Blunkett didn't start out on Sheffield Council thinking: "If I play my cards right, one day I could introduce internment without trial." Nor did the young Charles Clarke dream of saddling students with so much debt that Bono would have to campaign to get it cancelled. And you, dear Bill, didn't go into politics thinking: "I shall defend human rights abusers, provide them with military aid and encourage murder and torture."

But that, dear Bill, appears to be precisely what you are doing.

The UK government provides military aid and training to one of the worst human rights abusers in the world, the Colombian armed forces. Everyone, from the US State Department to Human Rights Watch, has documented the atrocities committed by the UK's pupils. Indeed the latest UN report on human rights in Colombia notes a significant increase in reports of violations attributed directly to the security forces. And only a few months ago three men - trade unionists and social activists - were publicly executed by the army on the streets in Arauca. Did Britain help to train these murderers?

Until you, Bill, tell us what Colombian army brigades the UK trains and what mechanisms there are to prevent known or suspected human rights abusers from receiving that training, we must assume that the UK is aiding state terrorism in Colombia. Until you can explain Britain's role in military intelligence training, we have to assume that the UK could have aided what is known in Colombia as "Operation Dragon".

Weeks ago, a police raid in Cali netted an army colonel who was found in possession of various documents. One of them was an analysis of a popular and effective campaign led by Sintraemcali (a public sector trade union) against the privatisation of the municipal water and power company. It listed organisations and individuals who supported the campaign, including various groups such as War on Want, Unison Manchester, Justice for Colombia and Mario Novelli (a UK academic and Colombia Solidarity Campaign organiser).

That a company would wish to analyse what happened during a campaign or a strike against it is perfectly normal. However, this document was found on an army colonel in Colombia, a country where 4,000 trade unionists have been killed since 1986. It is unlikely that there is any threat to Unison Manchester or War On Want; but what of the Colombians who appear in these reports? Other documents found with the colonel were printed on the headed notepaper of the army's central military intelligence and marked "Secreto". These list Colombian trade unionists, politicians and activists, including Alexander Lopez (a left-wing congressman), Luis Hernandez (president of the trade union) and the human rights activist Berenice Celeyta Alayon. The document provides photos of many of those named, details of their cars, addresses of campaign HQs and their employment registration numbers.

Another document stated that a primary objective was, "to change the leadership of the union to a more favourable one".

When the Colombian army has documents with these objectives alongside military intelligence documents listing trade unionists and congressmen, we can jettison the phrase "conspiracy theory" and stick with the word "conspiracy". Some of those listed believe that this is a plan to target, harass, detain or kill opponents of privatisation. Indeed, the recent murder of two bodyguards working with the ex-trade union leader and governor of the Valle del Cauca department Angelino Garzon, who is listed in the intelligence documents, has led to a belief that Operation Dragon has already begun.

Military intelligence work plays an important - indeed, vital - role in the assassinations of trade unionists and activists. The time to stop UK military aid and training to Colombia is long past, but unless you detail the work that the UK military does and the army units that it does it with, you, Bill, will be seen as an ally of barbarism.

Yours, Mark

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Warning the toffs that polo is next

After much reading and thought on the matter, and having examined the merits of all sides of the argument, I am inclined to support the banning of hunting foxes with hounds, primarily because I can think of no other action that could spur the railing hoorays and their trusty retainers to such vein-bursting apoplexy as we witnessed in Parliament Square.

This is not only morally right but hugely entertaining as well. To all of those who cry: "You just want to spoil the aristocracy's pleasure!" you are absolutely right. In fact, once we've banned fox-hunting, we're coming for polo. And once polo is gone we'll ban Glyndebourne. Then point to point, fencing and maybe the Cresta Run.

Fox-hunting has always been the activity of the upper class and their emulators. It is absurd to argue, as they do, that because people are employed in the stables and kennels, fox-hunting is open to the working classes. It is like saying the Ritz hotel is egalitarian because it employs toilet cleaners.

Fox-hunting is a truly upper-class activity and the only way to get the toffs to abandon it for ever would be if thousands of working people from south London council estates turned up on horseback to the Horsham Hunt to join in. If hunting were swamped with horse-riding blokes in tracksuit bottoms, smoking Superkings and shouting: "Come on, let's twat the furry fucker!" the upper classes would flee in disdain.

All their talk of protecting the fabric of the countryside is nothing but pro-hunting PR. If they care about rural issues, where are the demonstrations about rural poverty? Surely, Whitehall should be full of bugle-blowing oiks demanding fair wages for migrant labourers and greater controls on gangmasters. The Duke of Devonshire should be hanging off the railings at Downing Street and screaming: "An injury to one is an injury to all!" - or at least his manservant should be.

The British countryside is awash with second homes, purchased by bankers and brokers eager to ape the gentry, picking up the battle-cry that "townies don't understand the ways of the countryside". In many ways they are right: most city-dwellers see no attraction in killing small animals for pleasure and are content to mate with people outside their immediate family. However, the irony of these second-home-owning arrivistes championing the cause of "the countryside" is that it is their eager purchases which have driven up property prices to the extent that many less well-paid country-dwellers can't afford to live where they were born. But these concerns are not worthy of a demonstration or action.

The countryside has been poisoned with subsidised pesticides and herbicides and turned into a monoculture of corporate production, while the culprits claim they are the guardians of rural Britain. The remainder of our green and pleasant land is the plaything of the landed upper class. The ban on hunting foxes is a result of their quest for exclusivity, coupled with the hunt's cruelty disguised as quaint tradition.

What was noticeable about the demonstration in Parliament Square was not the police brutality, but the authorities' continued deference to their "betters". Had an animal rights demo tried to break into parliament, then thrown thunderflashes and smoke bombs at the police or fired shotgun cartridges into the air (admittedly with no pellets in them), the press and the police would have had a field day.

Were the police to treat the hunters as they treat animal rights folk or the Muslim community, they would be stopping and searching toffs under the

anti-terror laws. Newscasters would look stern as they read out: "Earlier today police made a series of dawn raids on the offices of the Countryside Alliance, confiscating a number of computers, files, back editions of Country Life and other extremist literature", before cutting to a police officer intoning: "No one has been charged at this stage, though we are investigating links with a substantial amount of tweed that was found on the premises."

Yet all this would be too much to hope for in our class-ridden land, where the Daily Mail and the Express would happily see a return to the doffing of caps, transportation for poachers and the right of the lord of the manor to claim local virgins. Hunters might drape their cause in the language of civil liberties, but they are on the wrong side for that argument to be taken seriously: they are the elite, not the downtrodden. They are as far removed from the suffragettes or Martin Luther King as it is possible to be.

As for using direct action for their "cause", five hoorays who happen to be mates with royalty entering the House of Commons chamber to shout simply can't compete with the audacious finesse of an abseiling lesbian.