WARNING: PESTO WILL NOT LEAVE YOU ROFL*
*ROLLING ON FLOOR, LAUGHING... BUT YOU KNEW THAT, OF COURSE!
FRANCIS WHEEN POLITICS WTF Robert Peston Hodder & Stoughton £20
Here’s a surprise: a book by ITV political editor Robert Peston about the World Tennis Federation. Only kidding! The slangy title is intended to present Peston as a millennial guy, thoroughly at home with Twitter and WhatsApp – and thus ideally qualified to explain last year’s political eruptions to more analogue-minded readers.
‘I didn’t vote for Brexit,’ he writes, ‘and I would never have voted for Trump.’ No surprise, perhaps, but it’s unusual for a supposedly neutral political reporter to be quite so candid. I wonder what his employers at ITV News will make of that.
Peston thinks both Trump and Brexit are ‘poisonous’, but also sees them as necessary purgatives. Like the implausible rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the overnight success of Emmanuel Macron, they represent ‘long overdue’ revolts against the smug, liberal elite.
The bizarre thing, as he points out, is that these insurrections were led by members of the elite, even if they did pose as outsiders. Corbyn, a Westminster politician for almost 35 years, assumed the guise of a latter-day Cincinnatus, reluctantly summoned from his allotment to save the republic. When voters wanted to stick two fingers up to the ruling class, they voted for a mega-tycoon in America and for ‘quintessential posh buffoon’ Boris Johnson in the EU referendum.
Peston describes The Donald and BoJo as ‘great bulging bags of contradictory influences and values’. But he is equally harsh on himself, apologising profusely for ‘my many years of blindness to the growing sense of hopelessness and despair felt by so many’. After the referendum he realised that all his life had been lived ‘in a privileged metropolitan bubble or ghetto’. Had this really never occurred to him before? So he says; and ‘that makes me sick’.
Nothing in his upbringing had prepared him for the idea that people could regard the EU, or the free movement of labour, as a menace. His Jewish forebears had come to Britain as economic migrants. His father – who died in April last year, just in time to miss Brexit and Trump – was an academic and a Labour peer. ‘In my closest circle of perhaps a hundred family members and friends,’ Peston reveals, ‘no one voted to leave the EU.’
This enjoyably honest book is an odd melange – family memoir, economic analysis, reports from the campaign trail. It con-
cludes that last year’s upheavals were a delayed political reaction to the financial crash of 2008, but also the product of an ‘age of emotion’ in which everything is amplified and accelerated by Twitter. The longest entry in the index is ‘social media’.
Peston allows himself an occasional ‘FFS’, but there are no LOLs or ROFLs. ‘The world felt a scarier place than at any time I could remember,’ he writes of an all-night election party at the US embassy in London last November. When Donald Trump’s victory was confirmed, ‘all I could think was that I wanted to hug my two boys’. He had to make do with hugging a columnist from the Financial Times instead.
Above: a woman passes a mural of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson in 2016. Right: Robert Peston