Review: WTF by Robert Peston

BY Keith Simpson   /  5 December 2017

Robert Peston is marmite – for every person who dislikes his shambolic approach and motormouth speech there is someone who loves his eccentricity and knowledge of economics and politics. Currently he is ITV’s political editor and presenter of the politics show Peston on Sunday.

Peston has written three books, How Do We Fix This Mess? Who Runs Britain? And Brown’s Britain. WTF is a wide ranging polemic in which the author mixes autobiography, in your face opinions and a lot of detailed research.

He begins and ends his book with a chapter based on a chatty letter to his late father, an academic and a Labour Peer. Peston is happy to relate his deep disappointment over the referendum to leave the EU and his contempt and horror of the election of President Trump.

So what’s WTF about and does Peston succeed in encouraging the reader and making them think? In engaging with his late father Peston attempts to describe how the wider establishment in nearly all the advanced democracies got it wrong – that whilst many did very well out of globalisation and capitalism a large section stood still economically or were disadvantaged and the old certainty of social mobility became a scarce commodity.

It was the vote for Brexit, the election of Trump and the Corbyn surge which challenged Peston to write WTF.

WTF is partly autographical and Peston is very conscious of his Jewish heritage and a family who strived. He recognises that his socio-economic class had got it wrong and wants to know how, if at all possible, it can be corrected.

So through a dozen chapters Peston examines the events that delivered May, Corbyn and Trump, how it is possible to make a success of leaving the EU, the lessons of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, whether robots can be stopped form taking our work, why questions of immigration and identity have come to dominate our politics, who is to blame for austerity and what can be done to reignite social mobility and prevent democracy being subverted by technocratic geniuses with the ability to manipulate social media.

For young British politicians there is much to consider including his account of how Vote Leave under the inspired direction of Dominic Cummings used targeted social media that out manoeuvred the slow moving and negative remain campaign.

Peston attempts to show the strengths and weaknesses of Brown and May – neither of whom have much emotional intelligence. He is critical of the Treasury and Bank of England and would like to see some of their powers moved elsewhere – resurrect the old Harold Wilson department of economic affairs?

I began reading WTF with a view to not liking it. I was wrong. I disagree with some of the analysis and opinions but it made me think and is a welcome addition to the necessary process for changing our world.

Keith Simpson is the Member of Parliament for Broadland