FEATURE: Mark Thomas’ The People’s Magna Carta | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Mark Thomas has a knack of hitting the topical nail on the head. The comedian, writer and activist calls me on Wednesday 6th May, ostensibly to discuss his latest show about the Magna Carta, but we end up – perhaps inevitably – in conversation about politicians and the EU Convention on Human Rights.

But before that rather knotty subject, he’s got a bee in his bonnet about the Magna Carta, an 800 year old document that established the principle that everybody – including the king and ruling parties – are subject to the law. Noted for his People’s Manifesto shows, the idea of the People’s Magna Carta was born. “As a document the Magna Carta has fallen prey to historical reinterpretation; it’s one of those ‘biscuit tin nationalism’ things, where we can say ‘look, we’ve got the Magna Carta and Shakespeare’, but it’s actually a fascinating document because for the first time it said that the king’s power is controlled by a body of people that have to be consulted when they want to do something. It sets down that the law of the land is important.”

During the show, which visits Newcastle City Library on Wednesday 24th June, the audience will be invited to suggest what new rights could be included in a revamped Magna Carta. He’ll be joined by an expert on constitutional reform, who will be on hand to discuss the suggestions no matter how wild and wacky they may be; and as you’d expect, Mark’s heard everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. “People’s ideas change according to what’s in the news, but we always get something on austerity – politicians should live on minimum or national wage, or – one of my favourites – that they shouldn’t get paid a wage but given loans instead. You get a lot of bog-standard ideas – there’s always one about bringing back hanging – but then a lot of progressive stuff, like how the editor of The Sun should be made to walk around naked to prove there’s no such thing as privacy. It’s a fun night, but there’s a lot of serious points in it.

“we’ve moved from ‘the rule of law is important’ to saying that those who create the law are sometimes at fault and we need to protect people’s rights”

“There are a whole range of questions that come out of [the People’s Magna Carta] and how to look at the EU Convention on Human Rights. I wonder if 500 years from now we’ll be celebrating the Charter of Human Rights, which limits the power of the state on the individual, which is an incredible thing; we’ve moved from ‘the rule of law is important’ to saying that those who create the law are sometimes at fault and we need to protect people’s rights.”

Given the coincidental date of our conversation, I can only imagine how enraged Mark must have been after hearing about the potential repeal of the Human Rights Act, the British way of implementing the EU Convention on Human Rights, “an incredible document” that says we as human beings have a right to life, liberty, security, an education, fair trial, freedom of thought, conscience and religion among other things.

So what would Mark make an essential part of a new People’s Magna Carta? “What everyone has is the unwritten right to be poor, and actually what we want is to have a written right to alleviate us from poverty.”

Mark Thomas’ The People’s Magna Carta is at Newcastle City Library on Wednesday 24th June.

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