From being a “B52 liberal” to the crisis of young Europeans

My week in European politics, from London to Rome - via Berlin.

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Monday: London is a one-day stop­over in a gruelling European tour to promote my book PostCapitalism. I’ve returned from Amsterdam to host Molly Crabapple for the launch of her book Drawing Blood. Molly started out as a nude artist’s model in New York, became a graphic artist, threw herself into the Occupy movement, flew to Guantanamo to draw the prisoners and Athens to draw rioters – and along the line, the words she was writing next to the pictures became kick-ass journalism. At the drinks, I’m among journalists half my age: one who covered Tahrir Square, another working on the Syrian/Turkish border, another who’s the scourge of the Greek elite. None of them works for the “mainstream media”. Three weeks in to my own freelance career I can see why. They are poor but free.

Tuesday In Berlin to deliver the annual Democracy Lecture at the imposing 1950s concrete curve that is the Haus der Kulturen der Welt – a kind of Commonwealth Institute for a country not allowed to have colonies. Afterwards, at a reception with numerous left, liberal and trade union people, the discussion is doomy: German social democracy is dying a death. As the nationalist right rises, the concern is that the vast liberal-left salariat, with their careful recycling habits and moral opposition to GDP growth, just won’t find the will to resist.

Wednesday From the coffee bar at Tegel Airport, I publish a blog about why I support renewing the Trident submarines. I want to make Trident’s deployment and posture subject to parliamentary control and at the same time end the UK’s commitment to expeditionary warfare, cancelling the Tory gift of a Royal Navy base to Bahrain.

With Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour looking increasingly confident, Trident remains the one issue where the stay-behind Cold Warriors of the Labour right have the power to disrupt him. My proposal would allow unilateral de-escalation of the deterrent while keeping the jobs in Barrow.

It’s the third day of Cameron’s struggle with the truth about his Blairmore investments. With this, plus the Tata Steel fiasco, I’m worried Labour needs to get ready for a snap election or a constitutional crisis. The Tories suddenly look very Profumo-era.

I fly to Rome for a coach ride to the Perugia journalism festival. My group seems to be full of people who are: a) automating newsrooms, b) doing data journalism, c) making data visualisations, or d) trawling through leaked data. I spot Matina Stevis of the Wall Street Journal, a fellow veteran of the Greek crisis, and it occurs to me that we might be the only people present who actually gather the data: that is, stand with a microphone in a hostile situation, watching people’s faces contort into anger and dismay.

By now Twitter has become a hostile situation. There’s anger over my Trident stance. Someone from CND says I am “a Tory”. The head of Stop the War, which I’ve supported since it was founded, says I’m a “B52 liberal”. I respect pacifists and lifelong unilateralists. There’s a segment of the left who just don’t realise how close we are to a 1930s-style meltdown, in which it’s not a question of slogans but of wielding political power.

Thursday #ThisIsACoup – a documentary I produced about defeat of the Syriza government in Greece – is being shown in Perugia. The Q&A with the director, Theopi Skarlatos, is in the spectacular, 13th-century hall of the Palazzo dei Priori. Again, there is angst about the future of Europe: a level of angst the EU’s policy elite seem barely to have noticed. Theopi delivers an anecdote that sums up the political distance travelled since this time last year: “Then, my uncle would have been delighted if I’d married Tsipras. Now he wants to kill him.”

Friday As Cameron completes his week-long struggle with Blairmore, Twitter is full of cris de coeur from right-wing journalists claiming that the Tories won’t just stand up and defend the right to inherited wealth, offshore opacity and tax avoidance. “Everybody does it,” is the subtext – a Marie Antoinette moment for the ultra right of British journalism and economics.

Saturday-Sunday The Etruscans were clever, building pyramid-size walls to protect Perugia. This did not stop the city falling to the Romans, and from the Romans to the Goths. It was a thriving commercial centre by 1250 and a backwater by 1490, both economically and artistically. Perugia in the Renaissance was captured by a politically corrupt mafia who stifled social mobility, hid their wealth outside the tax system and commissioned second-rate local art from people whose reputation rested on their friendships with the elite. Sound familiar?

Monday I take the train via Florence to Milan. Wherever you travel in Europe, you move alongside two flows: the migrants and refu­gees visible in every city, and a swirling mass of young Europeans who feel politically alienated and concerned about the way the system keeps failing to respond to crises.

At the Milan book launch I argue for “revolutionary reformism” – using the state to create a non-capitalist sector based on collaboration. There’s great interest in Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Pablo Iglesias and Yanis Varoufakis but despair over their own socialist leader, Matteo Renzi, who is described as “Tony Blair 20 years too late”.

Among the young there is a movement back to the land; with 30 per cent youth unemployment, people are looking for ways to create closed, circular economies in which they can live “despite” the stagnant capitalism that surrounds them. This is the legacy of the past 20 years of centre-left politics in Europe: a generation of children whose parents forgot all the bedtime stories and who now have to make them up from scratch.

The concept of “Europe” certainly is not providing any kind of story for them. It’s vital for the radical left to come up with a convincing narrative, before those of the nationalist right, or simply nihilism, take over.

Paul Mason is a New Statesman contributing writer, author and film-maker. As economics editor at Newsnight, then Channel 4 News, he covered the global financial crisis, the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement and the Gaza war. His latest book is Clear Bright Future: A radical defence of the human being.

This article appears in the 14 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The making of a monster

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