Lay off Peston

Adds 2 I’d completely forgotten about this until Ben Brogan Pol Ed of the Mail’s blog reminded me. (Had a CRAP moment – can’t remember a fucking thing). Peston was sort of blamed because one of the bank chiefs who met the Chancellor last Monday night blabbed the fact to him. This caused the markets to tumble to their lowest yet and precipitated the whole £400 billion package. Quite the most expensive leak in history. It gives you a good idea, writ very large, of the pressures specialist correspondents come under. You cope by playing a very straight bat.

Adds. I add this personal assessment of the BBC’s coverage of the financial crisis by its Economics Editor Hugh Pym, who’s doing the job while Evan Davis’s successor Stephanie Flanders is on maternity leave ( job details in response to query below).
The BBC’s superb Business Editor Robert Peston was always bound to attract the snipers. Someone so consistently on top of the story was never going to get away with it. Any professional controversialist like Peter Hitchens in the Mail is sometimes bound to be stuck for a line on a big story but this is a particularly feeble one – as if the pension funds are going to be wiped out by Peston having a “bead” that is, a few minutes ahead of the pack – on any particular episode. The fact is that a senior reporter for a huge outlet like the BBC attracts information as much as he seeks it. Yes, it’s possible to detect the hand of the Treasury in some of his reports – rightly and inevitably. The Chancellor has been slammed for speaking too much or too late and has been criticised for both. Information has to be obtained somehow and Peston’s sources stretch well beyond the official. So how “responsible” ought anyone in Peston’s’ position to be ? Peter Jay, a former economics (not business) editor for the Times and the BBC, says Peston bears a huge responsibility. “Any journalist has to consider what the consequences of his actions will be, and if they will have an anti-social result.” Jay, the extremely clever son of a cabinet minister, former Treasury mandarin, later ambassador to Washington and speech writer for his then father-in-law James Callaghan was for most of his career more of a player than a reporter. For the BBC he was virtually invisible for years. The story is told of Jay (possibly apocryphally but very plausibly) that he put down a colleague, telling him that one of his articles on monetarism was intended to be understood by just two people and “you are not one of them.” In part, it was Jay’s extremely rarefied handling of the brief that revealed the glaring need to appoint a Business editor to tap into a private sector that was extremely coy about explaining itself. The banks were the most secretive, disastrously so as we’re now experiencing, and still are, even at this very moment of deep crisis. The idea that in the digital age Peston uniquely possesses a killer fact for any more than a few minutes is absurd. If anything it’s a shame he was unable to break more scoops much earlier. We might then have been heading for a softer landing. What he does in text and in his own unique form of speech is to make it now, make it fast and make it intelligible. Like our own John Cole, former BBC Political Editor now over 80, whom I last saw in fine form a couple of months ago, Peston breaks all the normal rules of broadcasting but has become a national – and quite possibly an international – treasure.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • slug

    It’s interesting that he is the Business Editor. The Economics Editor (whose name I can’t even remember) has a much lower profile than in the days of Evan Davies.

  • slug

    Didn’t realise until now that he is son of Lord Peston the economist.

    Robert Peston is very good. He explains things well. I am a fan of his contributions. He explains things well. I see that people complain about his speech impediments but to be honest I hadn’t noticed them much. But then I was always more interested in substance.

    If anything the BBC is too much about style and too little about substance (see BBC NI’s patronising and boring Newsline). But in Peston they have substance.

  • Lois Lame

    Whatever Hitchens said, you appear to have redressed the balance. And how.

  • slug

    Its interesting that Peston/Randall talk about an anti-business attitude at the BBC. Peston things its gone but I disagree.

    BBC NI Newsline have James Kerr who is very good on business. But how often do you see him? There is no interest in business news in BBC NI. Appalling lack of interest in such an important matter.

    Nationally the BBC are no better. Very little business news.

    Recently of course its in the headlines. But in quieter times very little coverage of business news.

  • DC

    For a man that knows that confidence is the issue he sets about showing all the potential negatives.

    He’s been as good as he has been as bad coupled with 24/7 global media he has highlighted the worst possible options and pondered the outcomes too.

  • @Brian Walker

    I’m sure he’s a big enough boy to look after himself. When are you releasing the “leave Robert alone!” youtube video?

  • Hogan
  • Ann

    Britain in some ways Britain has quite possibly ‘talked’ its self into recession, but if a major bank in this case the RBS which Preston says could be wanting as much as £10billion,Prestons Picks blog but Iain Dale says could be as much as £20 billion, then surely it is better that the public know where their money is going and how it is being spent. Sour grapes perhaps on behalf of those that didn’t get the scoop?

    The bank could be pushing up the amount because the offer is there, but they’d do this even without the exposure, and it’s always better to have a well informed public. It is our money after all.

    Good scoop for Preston, and good post here.

    Extremely refreshing to read something different here. 🙂

  • I’m tired of hearing all this psychobabble to the effect that our woes are caused by ‘pessimism’ in the meeja. There is actually excessive optimism throughout the mainstream media, but if anything we are seeing that the markets are resilient to psychobabble and are going to correct direction (down) after the counterproductive ‘rescue’ plans.

    The simple fact is that many of our banks, businesses and individuals have screwed up by making bad decisions year after year. They are bankrupt already, but the corrupt accountants and regulators have yet to officially confirm it. The situation is simpler and more certain than the average no-nothing journalist would tell you.

    All the journalists, business folks and government officials still have their heads buried in the sands. None of them were honest 12 months ago about the hole we had got ourselves into, and to this day they still pretend that a ‘rescue plan’ will fix everything.

    The BBC have failed badly in their reporting of these ‘rescue plans’. It is NOT for the BBC, or any supposedly impartial reporter, to judge whether a plan is good or not. It is improper for the BBC to report as ‘good news’ the passing or otherwise of a rescue plan through a legislature. Instead, they should get a variety of economists to deliver their thoughts.

    The real economy has already been destroyed directly by bank’s decisions, we just had a mirage of prosperity caused by imports borrowed from China (and Germany, I think) which have yet to be paid for.

    Many supposedly well off people in Ireland, like those fools buying houses within the last five years, had already known they were unable to pay their way; their incomes did not cover their outcomes and they didn’t have any sort of pension provision. They, or their employer’s, productivity was not keeping up with their extravagant lifestyle. They just imported stuff by the trick of ‘releasing equity’. But your houses are worthless and the Chinese aren’t going to use their trillions of dollars to import your houses to China! They are going to buy our services. We will, deservedly, have to spend a few years simply paying off our debts before we can return to some sort of normality.

  • Ann

    I don’t think we’ll ever get back to ‘normality’, this is definitely the end of American style capitalism. It’ll be about re-adjusting to this new style for the future not getting back to what was once ‘normal’.

  • ulsterfan

    Where is Evan Davies?
    To me he was the best at explainig complicated issues in a simple manner.
    Peston may yet prove to be his equal, but time will tell.

  • IJP


    Excellent blog.

    Certainly, closer to home, the difficulty we have is that there is no one like Peston really prepared to challenge the government on the basis of what is really going on (rather than base populism) – and perhaps we’re too small a society to expect that.

    I personally find Peston far too chummy in delivery (as on Andrew ‘Andy’ Marr this morning). But get beyond that, and he’s been a central figure in my/our understanding of what is going on. On balance, put me in the ‘fan’ column.

  • Nestor Makhno

    Ulsterfan: Evan Davies is now at Radio 4’s Today programme.

    Personally, I prefer Newsnight’s Paul Mason over Preston. Moody northerner not afraid to talk about doom and gloom. His performance on last Friday’s Newsnight was excellent (still available on Iplayer).

    that show is also worth viewing for the panel discussion with Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Black Swan). Nassim almost explodes with rage over the situation we find ourselves in!

  • Brian Walker

    Wow Aaron! What omniscience is sheltering in this wee blog. You should be out there coining it, boy. At the very least as a specialist adviser. You’re wasted!

    “It is NOT for the BBC, or any supposedly impartial reporter, to judge whether a plan is good or not.”

    Nonsense, every well informed reporter makes such judgments every day, all the time, on the basis of evidence and the pool of knowledge. Where have you been all this time? Admiring your own opinions?

  • runciter

    a mirage of prosperity caused by imports borrowed from China

    Nicely put.

    Wow Aaron! What omniscience is sheltering in this wee blog.

    It didn’t take omniscience to know that this bubble was going to burst. Just because the BBC didn’t discuss it didn’t mean that people were not aware of what was going on.

  • Dave

    Actually, Aaron, every house purchase simultaneously releases equity, so the bust only hits those who purchased at prices higher than subsequent value. In other words, lenders and those with negative equity. That equity gain for the fortunate seller is very real. In Ireland’s case, we’ll be back in the property game in a few years. Indeed, there are already a few bargains to be had for property investors rather than speculators. Indeed, if we didn’t have corrupt government, we’d simply let the bank’s shareholders take the hit by forcing the bank to declare bankruptcy (wherein the shares become worthless to the current shareholders but can then be sold by the administrator to new shareholders, hence to recapitalising the bank and restoring its liquidity), but, alas, those shareholders are voters, don’t ya know.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Brian :

    (Had a CRAP moment – can’t remember a fucking thing).

    I think you must be the first Slugger blogger to say “fuck” in the main post.

    Dave :

    but, alas, those shareholders are voters, don’t ya know.

    I agree with most of what you wrote there, but isn’t the issue the fact that the shareholders are other large institutions ? There was a scare that regular Lloyd’s shareholders would not support their bank taking over the rubbish at HBOS. But it emerged that this wouldn’t matter, since the large shareholders held shares both in Lloyd’s and HBOS, and it was in their interests to pool the two banks together to stop half of their investment getting wiped out.

    I used to work at AIB HQ years ago, and they used to hold their AGMs at the HQ once per year. About 90% of the people there were old people who held about three shares in the bank and showed up for the free coffee, tea and biscuits. They’d stand up at the meeting and blether for a while and that would be them for another year. There’s even a guy who owns one share, who shows up every year to put a motion that the bank’s entire management should be sacked. Among all the oldies, nutters, and people with nothing else better to do with their time, are discreet guys in suits who represent the votes of the institutional shareholders. They’ve already agreed the outcome of all the votes with the bank’s directors in advance.

  • runciter

    the bust only hits those who purchased at prices higher than subsequent value

    The bust is already bankrupting national economies.

    Claiming at this stage that the fallout will be limited to individual investors is bizarre.

    we’ll be back in the property game in a few years

    This kind of demented wishful thinking is soooo last year.

  • lafcadio

    The only reason Peston got the job was the fact that he’s a chum of Brown’s, following his brown-nose fest “Brown’s Britain”. The leaks on the bail-out plan very definitely didn’t come from the bank execs (can someone explain to me just why they would like to get that into the public domain at that stage???) but, as usual, from his mates at the treasury. and, as usual, peston’s desire for self-publicity and self-aggrandisement saw him rush to publish.