Diary - Robert Peston
A foreign firm may be about to take over the London Stock Exchange but its French chief executive still regrets the refurbishment of the Savoy Hotel grill room.
As I anxiously watched digital TV at 11.50pm on Saturday - to check how the news channels would cover the Sunday Telegraph's first extract from my book, Brown's Britain - up on the screen flashed the front page of the Mail on Sunday: "BBC BOSS IN HIDING." This was unsettling, because the supposedly scarpered executive is one of my oldest chums, Roly Keating, the controller of BBC2. He and his family have indeed had a torrid time, deluged with abusive phone calls from "Christian" activists, who were outraged by his decision to screen Jerry Springer: the opera. Roly, his wife and their children were - according to the Mail - driven to a "safe house" on Saturday morning after "security experts decided the threat to kill Mr Keating if the programme went ahead was a credible one". Which was odd, because I had spoken to Roly that same morning to check everything was OK - and it largely was. What's more, the Keating clan was looking forward to a weekend out of town, which they had been planning long before the Springer furore. Anyway, they had a lovely time, which was doubtless only improved by the Mail's celebration of them as plucky, besieged heroes.
A debate on media standards - with two editors, another BBC executive, an investment banker, a Bank of England luminary, academics and a bishop, inter alia - was more practical than most. We'd been summoned to dinner at the offices of Pearson, owner of Penguin and the Financial Times, by Julia Middleton, the unrecognised toiler for the rehabilitation of the concerned, engaged citizen.
One of Middleton's great skills is to persuade police constables, youth group organisers, permanent secretaries, FTSE chief executives and headteachers that they can learn from each other and could even cure some of society's ills. However, almost all her meetings end up with a collective wail about the irresponsibility and excessive power of the media. So she herded us into Pearson's art-deco palace on the Strand in the hope that we could find an answer or two. Something may come of the proposals that were offered. Meanwhile, the discovery of the evening for me was that Pearson's executive washroom is unisex, a la Ally McBeal. What is Marjorie Scardino, Pearson's personable chief executive, thinking of?
Understandably, I'm a big fan of newspapers just now, because they have shone a bright light on Brown's Britain. That said, it has taken me two years to write the book, and it covers much more than the Prime Minister's gulling of the Chancellor in 2003 and 2004 - which is what has received the attention. It's my take on the creation of new Labour, what it's done in government and where Gordon Brown would take the party if he became leader. So what worries me in my more neurotic moments (many of those) is that the Sunday Telegraph's distillation of 30 pages will be regarded by many people as the whole book, and they won't bother to read the other 330 lovingly crafted ones.
Here in Blair's Britain, the London Stock Exchange will soon be owned by a foreign firm - possibly by Euronext, whose French chief executive is Jean-Francois Theodore. Lunch with him persuaded me it would be quite delicious for Euronext to succeed. The point is that when I first started to rummage around the Square Mile some 20 years ago, I would have been sectioned for suggesting that an enarque who spent half his career at the Tresor could one day be running the quintessentially English - and, until recently, consistently hopeless - stock exchange. However, it slightly troubles me that Theodore dresses like an old-school stockbroker and still regrets the refurbishment of the Savoy Hotel's grill room. Perhaps it's a camouflage that will allow him to infiltrate and then cull the last survivors of the old City.
A demoralising view of Blair's Britain can be seen in my mother-in-law's council flat in Camden, where my division of the Pestons trooped to celebrate her birthday. An entire wall of her home is rotting plaster and exposed electrics. And it's the same in every one of the apartments in one side of her huge tower block. There's been a health risk for weeks and nothing has been done. It's a conspicuously shameful example of Labour ignoring its own - and a dangerous one in the run-up to an election.
Robert Peston is City editor of the Sunday Telegraph. Brown's Britain (Short Books) is published on 20 January