In the Guardian, do turn up the trenchant and sweary encounter between ace newspaper interviewer Decca Aitkenhead and Robert Peston, economics guru- cum- eccentric political interviewer, on Brexit and the future of the nation.
Peston is an acquired taste, a formerly buttoned -up guy who literally as we can see, has let his hair down since he went on TV late in life and longs to come across as spontaneously ordinary but can’t find quite the right notes. (that cringing-making “Wotcha “ at the top of every Sunday show). But any brickbats must be softened by an appreciation of the passion, expertise and integrity he brings to his work and the self deprecation with which so obviously relishes his celebrity in such an unlikely area.
The interview is prompted by the publication of the book which expresses both parts of Peston’s persona, the meticulous economist and the torrential talker who leavens his learning with a vulgar front. Clearly he is not contained any more by being ITV News’ Political Editor than he was as the BBC’s Economics Editor ( by far the better job in my view -but then he didn’t have the bonus of his own show).
Below the surface, cancer is a tragic bond. Peston lost his wife to cancer a few years ago. Aitkenhead contracted it shortly after her husband was drowned saving their son.
On the politics he avoids partisanship but argues plausibly that the future is more likely to be Labour than Tory. Against the run of history, he insists the future has got to be radical.
The introduction of a universal basic income is, he believes, inevitable. This drastic reinvention of the welfare state would see the government pay every single citizen, irrespective of their wealth or employment status, a regular cash sum calculated to cover all their basic needs. The only country in the world to experiment with the policy so far is Finland, but Peston sounds almost nonchalantly matter of fact when he predicts, as if stating the obvious: “We will end up with it. We just have to reconcile ourselves to no growth. The natural tendency of the economy at the moment is to widen income and wealth disparities and in those circumstances, and particularly when you layer on top of that the rise of robots and artificial intelligence, it is very, very difficult. ” Does he assume this will become Labour party policy in the foreseeable future? “Yeah.”
He puts Labour’s success in the election earlier this year down to voters’ sense that it already offered the best hope for avoiding a hard Brexit, and assumes that before long the party will make this its explicit offer to the electorate. “Yeah , totally. I’m very clear that that’s where Jeremy Corbyn will end up. “I think it’s becoming clearer that Labour will end up, as a minimum, signed up to a position where we are a bit like Norway.” In other words, a permanent member of the single market. “But it’s altogether conceivable that they end up being a party that says we have to have another vote on this. They will arrive undoubtedly at one or other of those positions.”
He cannot recall any government in such a state of perpetual crisis. May’s position is only safe for now “because there is no unifying candidate to replace her. If the Tory party could get over its civil war about Brexit then Amber Rudd and Ruth Davidson are very impressive politicians and they would both give Labour a run for its money.” But as both are Remainers, neither could lead the party “until the whole Brexit thing is sorted out. Which is why I think May is secure.”
“She has a very strong sense of duty, I’m told by all her friends, and that’s what keeps her there. But you do wonder if at some point she just decides, in collaboration with her husband, that she’s had enough, and the party seems to be deeply unappreciative of her trials. So I think her fate is in her own hands.
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