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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

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