Why Britain should declare war on JerseyIf we can attack Iraq, why can't we invade – sorry, liberate – this 21st century pirate cove?
Mark Thomas The Guardian, Monday 8 February 2010
Jersey . . . now that Bergerac is a distant memory, war can go ahead
Over the last year I have toured the country getting audiences to propose policies they think will change the world, improve their life or just annoy people they don't like. Before the shows the audience would submit ideas, we'd then discuss them and finally vote to select the policy they wanted to represent them. Over a series of shows these policies have developed into a manifesto, and subsequently this has been turned into a Radio 4 series, a booklet, an action figure and a range of clubwear.
If the people that come to my shows represent a side of Britain, the policies (chosen and rejected) suggest a strong sense of scepticism, a flair for creative revenge and such an intolerant love of decapitation that I imminently expect the twinning of Maidenhead with Riyadh – though the Saudis might find Maidenhead a little reactionary for their liking.
The twin themes of revenge and scepticism featured heavily in the audience choices, and last year homeopaths became the focus of attention at a show in Leicester; overwhelmingly the audience voted in favour of the policy that ruled that "anyone who sells homeopathic remedies should be allowed homeopathic treatment only if they have a major illness". In Cheltenham the two themes merged with the suggestion that "Mediums should be imprisoned but with a combination lock. If they and their spirit guides can find the number they are free to go." In London the mob rule element got the upper hand when one show voted that "Noel Edmonds should be beheaded . . . and his head placed in one of 22 sealed boxes."
Amid the creative curmudgeons who suggested and voted for these ideas were those who displayed a charming and absurdist streak too. In Swindon someone boldly wrote in hearty cheer, "My policy is: Terry Wogan for euthanasia tsar!" To my mind just imagining Sir Terry's breathy brogue muttering the word "Switzerland" spreads cheery charm on the subject of assisted suicide. In Birmingham, one of the most popular policies was that "Mecca bingo halls should be made to face east" and Nottingham voted en masse that "anyone in favour of banning immigration should sign a register and be banned from travelling abroad".
A bizarre and joyous mix of ideas emerged at every show and often it was the plain old-fashioned and decent that won the vote. Bristol, Birmingham and Lincoln audiences chose as their policy "more council houses". Which is bloody marvellous: council housing is the political C word. They are demonised places, painted as the homes of a sub-Dickensian underclass full of people who automatically become parents at 13 and then leave the baby in the pitbull's basket. And frankly it was a breath of fresh air to argue with an audience that saw the failure to build and protect council stock as part of the sub-prime fiasco, rather than view the issue through the spite-filled eyes of a Mail hackette.
One of my favourite ideas was the simple proposal that "Britain should invade Jersey". Now that TV's Bergerac is just a distant memory this policy has become truly popular, not least because Jersey is one of the tax havens that have become the legal pirate coves of the 21st century. The Tax Justice Network (not to be confused with the rightwing Tax Payers' Alliance) estimates the UK loses about £18bn a year in tax revenue due to "corporate tax efficiency" ie companies moving offshore. The Iraq war cost at least £8bn. So war with Jersey would not only be morally right but self-financing too. In fact we could probably do a bond issue for the invasion to pay for everything up front with the promise of a steady yearly return for investors.
However the case for invading Jersey is made even more compelling by whistle-blower Stuart Syvret, the longest-serving senator and "father of the house" in the Jersey parliament. Syvret recently posted documents on his blog claiming that the island's political elite were refusing to investigate malpractice in the health service. He was rewarded with a morning raid by 10 police officers who searched his home (without a search warrant), confiscated his computer (holding his constituents' private data and communications) and imprisoned him while they did so. Syvret now lives "in exile" in London and says Jersey should be invaded "for regime change" – although he prefers the term "liberate" to invade.
But the Jersey idea, while brilliant, was just one of many. And for every policy that suggested that "fatty foods should be stacked in very thin aisles" there was a policy to "cap bankers' bonuses" , "introduce a maximum wage", "reintroduce the Glass-Steagall Act" or "re-mutualise Northern Rock". For me the variety of ideas is what has made the project interesting – that, and the fact that an audience can one minute bemoan crisp packet sizes and the next vote for a Tobin tax on currency transactions.
PS: Ebury Press has put up a £500 election deposit and £500 campaign costs to an independent candidate who would stand on issues from The People's Manifesto. Go to www.thepeoplesmanifesto.co.uk for details of how to apply.