Friday, 31 January 2014

The Book I Read In January

'As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela' by Mark Thomas
This is another of the books that I should have read closer to the time.  It is now seven years old and given that it is about the exploits the political activist-comedian Mark Thomas got up to expose the extent of the arms trade in the UK and Ireland and to get representatives of dictatorships to confess some of their crimes, it has lost a little of the impact.  It refers to the Blair governments of the time and given their initial commitment to ethical foreign policy the critique is sharper than if he had been talking about the current coalition which utterly lacks ethics.  The book is a serious of episodes in which he embarrasses arms companies, finds out how laws are bent and how easy it is to buy and ship not only arms but also torture equipment, hence the title actually used at a trade fair.  Thomas also meets with the people who have been affected by the selling of such equipment to nefarious regimes.  Some of the best incidents such as having set up a fake PR company at an arms fair Thomas gets representatives of dictatorships to confess to human rights violations, I had seen on his television programme.

I have seen Thomas on stage twice, once when this book came out and again last November.  He produced numerous series on Channel 4 in the 1990s and 2000s.  There is no-one like him in terms of his ability and his sheer energy in producing humour but also lessons from the ways he tries to bring down the all-powerful a peg or two and indeed he seems to have garnered respect certainly from the UK police, a range of politicians and even some of those he has gone up against.  Whilst this book feels dated, its lessons remain important and the forcefulness of Thomas, not in preaching, but in simply driving through incidents which are often absurd and sometimes dangerous, carries you along.  I certainly recommend reading his work and definitely seeing him live.  As I said to him last time I had a book signed, he offers people at least some crumbs of hope that even if we cannot stop people doing these bad things, at least they will be witnessed and challenged.