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Top comedian Marcus Brigstocke tells Rosy Moorhead his alternative plans for Cameron's Big Society
The Big Society is about helping people to come together to improve their own lives. It’s about putting more power in people’s hands – a massive transfer of power from Whitehall to local communities.
That’s how the Cabinet Office describes it, anyway. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams had a slightly different take on it: "...aspirational waffle designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable."
It’s safe to say that comedian Marcus Brigstocke’s view is closer to Williams’ than to the Cabinet’s, and he has written a whole stand-up show devoted to the subject, The Brig Society, which he is bringing to the Beck Theatre in Hayes.
“I think it’s foul, a horrible imposition,” he begins. “What they’re really doing is cutting while asking people to volunteer, it’s a thin veneer for some really awful cuts. But it’s also an interesting opportunity, should be choose to embrace it. The Brig Society is saying ‘OK, what if we do it? Take them at their word and do it ourselves?’ I appoint ministers from the audience to run the country – there’s no toe-curling enforced audience participation, it’s just if people feel strongly enough to join in.
“The other day I appointed a minister for the elderly who was in her early 70s and I asked her what her first policy would be. She said, straight away, that she’d raise the age of consent to 47 – to raise her chances. And I always appoint a chancellor, a very important role. Their suggestions vary from ‘let’s go out and hunt bankers on horseback and beat them to death in a hedgerow’ to ‘let’s set the maximum wage to ten times the minimum’.”
This is the first stand-up show that Marcus has written since the coalition came to power in 2010 – he had so much to say about what they were doing that he couldn’t not write it.
“It was time,” he says. “I talk about attitudes to pensioners, means testing of pensioners – are pensioners getting meaner? – that sort of thing.
“You’ve got to be solutions-based. If you think the bankers are being paid too much, you need to know who they are and why they’re being paid too much – and make people laugh at the same time.”
Marcus had to do a tremendous amount of research, including reading the local papers and listening to the news in each town he takes the show to, to get a sense of what they really think of the cuts.
“It has to be ongoing,” he says. “I did a show that worked a treat in Edinburgh and then they went and had a bloody reshuffle! Half the people I talked about weren’t in position anymore. But I read the papers and watch the news all the time anyway, so it’s not too difficult.”
Another element to the show covers the public school background of the majority of the country’s decision-makers – something Marcus has personal experience of.
“Like Cameron, Osborne and Hunt and the other ambitious leaders of the land, I went to boarding school from the age of seven,” he says, “so I know what makes these people tick. I know they’re not capable of meaningful empathy with normal people."
Marcus has given his name to his alternative view of the Big Society – does this mean he sees himself as our new leader?
“My one pledge to the people of this land, the one manifesto promise I won’t break, is that I will never run for office. That’s the greatest and best thing I can offer. The last thing we need is another over-confident white boy telling us what to do.”
- Marcus Brigstocke’s The Brig Society is at the Beck Theatre, Grange Road, Hayes on Monday, October 15 at 8pm. Details: 020 8561 8371, www.becktheatre.org.uk