Book review: WTF by Robert Peston

"The book also eloquently explains why the reasons behind Brexit can’t just be wished away by progressives"

When someone is mostly known for their public service broadcasting, it’s often intriguing to wonder what they really think (and indeed the wilder fringes of our politics constantly insist that such broadcasters are biased against them). So, the latest book from former BBC business editor, and now ITV political editor Robert Peston is notable as a chance to find out what an experienced observer thinks of current events.

Happily, the son of the late Labour Peer Lord Peston appears to share much of his old man’s politics. He is scathing about David Cameron’s disastrous years in power, correctly pinpointing Cameron and George Osborne’s repudiation of Gordon Brown’s handling of the economic recovery as the cause of this decade’s anaemic growth and poor living standards. He also adds a very interesting postscript about how, with public frustration at the impunity with which some powerful interests at fever pitch, Cameron and Oliver Letwin’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’ looks short-sighted at best.

Peston also looks at how austerity may have also been the clincher when it comes to Brexit. How precisely was Cameron and Osborne’s ‘don’t vote Leave or your lives will get worse’ line ever going to work with Labour voters in the North-East whose lives were already terrible and had been made even worse over the past six years by the same two men who were now telling them that leaving the European Union would be a massive mistake? This is thrown into even sharper relief by the Leave campaign’s pledge to give the NHS an extra £350million-a-week, in the face of battered public services (Peston wryly points out that for all the legitimate concern over misuse of Facebook data and the like, concern about the NHS was a salient issue for every demographic).

The book also eloquently explains why the reasons behind Brexit can’t just be wished away by progressives. Whilst the Labour government of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did revolutionise our public services, rebalancing the economy and providing skills, opportunities and new skilled industry was a job left undone – and we are now seeing the political consequences. This should also be a salutary lesson for anyone at risk of complacency following Labour’s improved 2017 general election showing – lower-income, non-metropolitan areas should be natural territory for the party and are slipping away despite astonishingly good results in Britain’s cities.

Furthermore, the manifesto Peston lays out in ‘WTF’ can only realistically be delivered by one party. In an age where two-party politics is back, and the Conservatives are hopelessly divided and consumed by Brexit (which at the very best is a time-wasting distraction from the country’s problems, and at the worst could set us off the economic pace for decades), Labour are uniquely placed to deliver the rebalanced, united country that we could be and should be. Unoriginal though some of its insights may be, ‘WTF’ is possibly the best summary of Britain’s problems to be released in recent years.


Will Tucker is a Young Fabian. Follow him on Twitter at @willgtucker

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