You know where you are arguing with a proper Marxist. There’s often a rigour to the historical analysis that you simply don’t get on the soft left. Which is why it was always such a pleasure debating with Paul Mason. He could say that capitalism is in trouble, doomed even, and as a pro-market person I could agree with some (not all) of the analysis about its weaknesses while disagreeing with him on the potential solution. His “post-capitalism” seemed to involve a return to barter, with us exchanging everything in a cooperative anarcho-syndicalist airbnb nirvana in which no money need change hands. I think that is – mercifully – not going to happen for all manner of reasons, not least of all is the involvement of human beings and the tendency of profit to drive innovation. More competition, not less, alongside the maintenance of strong property rights and civic institutions, is required.
Anyway, Paul Mason on Channel 4 News or BBC Newsnight when he was economics editor could be infuriating at times. But he was always interesting, whether he was reporting on Greece or the Sports Direct chain, or analysing George Osborne. He was always worth listening to, even if it was just to get the blood boiling.
What, then, has happened to him since he left broadcasting and became a full-time Corbynista comrade? What have they done to him?
On BBC Radio 4 he presented a piece of political analysis at the weekend that was so ludicrous, so removed from reality, so mind-bendingly deluded that it took the breath away. Labour MPs moved against Corbyn only because they had feared he was on course to win a general election, he claimed.
“I think Jeremy Corbyn will win. Or, let’s put it this way, he will be in a position to form a government. That, of course, is what the Labour rebels were worried about on the day after Brexit. Remember the sequence of this. It looked like there was going to be an early general election with the Tories in disarray. I still think the Tories will be in disarray over the next few years. And I think the guardians of elite power inside the Labour party decided it was enough. They texted each other saying this is our last chance, otherwise the guy has the chance of leading the party into an election and that election is winnable.”
Look, at the last general election, which was only a year ago (although pre-Brexit seems like a different century.) The Conservative party won 318 seats in England. Labour won 206. The then leader was deemed much too left-wing and implausible by the voters. There is no way on earth that those same voters in Bolton West, Milton Keynes South, Rossendale and Darwen, Blackpool North, Morecambe and Lunesdale, Pudsey, Carlisle, Corby, Telford and Gower, and Morley and Outwood, are going to vote for revolutionary socialism and the current Labour leader, who makes Ed Miliband look like JFK.
Short of a zombie apocalypse the voters of England are not going to vote for that twit Corbyn. He is very obviously a third-rater. The hard left and naive youngsters who cannot remember the Soviet Union or the IRA can project their fantasies onto him. That’s all. He is a very particular type generally unsuited to the office of Prime Minister. As I said, he’s a twit.
Mason was speaking on that BBC broadcast alongside Rhea Wolfson, a Scottish Corbynista member of Labour’s NEC and one of the most extraordinarily implausible figures to emerge recently in British politics, and that’s saying something. Wolfson, educated in Newton Mearns outside Glasgow and at Oxford, was on a BBC panel show recently and her answers on Islamist radicalisation and Islamic State were quite exceptionally daft. These are Mason’s new colleagues.
Perhaps – and this is pure speculation on my part – what has happened to Paul Mason is that in those organisations such as BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 there was always someone there forcing him to confront reality, saying the journalistic equivalent of “meanwhile, back on planet Earth.” There would be a Paxman off-air or another colleague at the BBC saying: “Paul, come off it. Greece is not about to lead a global revolution overthrowing the market system. It’s just not. Pull yourself together man.”
Without that corrective, when you are trooping around the country, speaking to the faithful, who want to hear the fantasy version and think opinion polls are made up by Zionists in league with newspaper proprietors, it must be difficult to get any proper perspective. To fix this, Paul Mason needs to get back into TV, to familiarise himself with the quiet people who in 2015 voted for the Tories, the Lib Dems, or moderate proper Labour. That’s most of England. In order to facilitate this I suggest Paul should be appointed as a presenter of the Antiques Roadshow, Countryfile or the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show forthwith.