WTF by Robert Peston book review: Embracing our situation and how we got here | Books | Entertainment

WTF by Robert Peston book review: Embracing our situation and how we got here | Books | Entertainment


WTF is book-ended by two heartfelt letters to Peston’s late father in which he bemoans the current state of politics in the UK and the USA.

With an admirable level of honesty, Peston explores the reasons why he didn’t see Brexit coming: “It turns out I have not really been living in the United Kingdom,” he says, “but in a privileged metropolitan bubble or ghetto.”

Despite describing himself as a “fully paid-up member of the community of internationalist liberals”, he believes that there is no use crying over spilt milk.

He argues that while he was a passionate Remainer in the 2016 EU referendum, it is now “important that we all attempt to make a success of the way we leave the EU. Whingeing from the sidelines is self-destructive”.

Much of Peston’s analysis of recent seismic shocks in politics is based on a diagnosis of how we got to where we are and, more importantly, how we can make the best of our situation for the future.

At the core of his critique is an admission that will be obvious to many: liberal capitalism, with its promise to enrich all of society through continual economic growth, is malfunctioning.

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

It is, Peston believes, unsustainable for the nation to continue with an economy characterised by “stagnation overlaid on a system that discriminated against whole regions, generations and classes”.

Wages in the UK are stagnant, social media is poisoning journalism and the rise of far-right populism means we live in a world “in which we are too vulnerable to being seduced by a new Mussolini, or even a Hitler”.

Peston believes that with some adjustments, the market-based economy could and should work.

So he offers a range of policy prescriptions, ranging from the radical to the mundane.

On one hand, he believes it is time to break up the Treasury and implement economic policy tailor-made for each region.

He suggests the establishment of regional investment banks.

He also believes we should consider a universal basic income to replace our complex and costly benefits system.

In his previous incarnation as BBC business editor, Peston may have pulled his punches, but he is clearly not in the mood to do so here.

He describes Theresa May as “evasiveness embodied” and “desperately hard work for a journalist”.

He believes her decision to trigger Article 50 prematurely was “perhaps the most wilful act of vandalism by a serving prime minister” for ceding the timetable of Brexit negotiations to the EU.

Jeremy Corbyn is “certainly not the messiah” but at least he “seems comfortable in his own skin” which Peston believes is the reason why he outperformed expectations in last June’s election.

As an attempt to “spark a conversation” about the greatest issues facing our country, WTF is a well-argued and comprehensive account of how we became the divided nation that is post-EU referendum Britain and it suggests some thoughtful policy levers that future governments might pull to bring us back together.



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