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20 October 2021

Robert Peston Q&A: “If only Gordon Brown had abandoned his obsession with being prime minister”

The journalist on Beethoven, his love of coffee and the wisdom of economics.

By New Statesman

Robert Peston was born in London in 1960. As business editor of BBC News, he was commended for his exposé on the Northern Rock crisis. He is currently the political editor of ITV News.

What’s your earliest memory?

When I woke up in a cottage hospital with the worst sore throat – having had my tonsils and adenoids removed – and I wondered whether the nurse was being deliberately cruel by offering me fish and chips. Surely she knew I could not eat.

Who are your heroes?

As a child: Bobby Moore and John Lennon, the quiet gent and the loud rebel. Now, I don’t like the idea of heroes, but I am prone to tearing up at exceptional performance achieved through graft against a backdrop of adversity. The footballer Raheem Sterling is a great role model.

What book last changed your thinking?

The collected works of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Through his depictions of the Shtetl Jews of eastern Europe in the 19th century, and the emigrés to Yiddish New York, he has helped me to understand who I am.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

I remember an unhealthy amount about fiscal and monetary policy development from 1994 to 2001.

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Which political figure do you look up to?

Gordon Brown, for his increasingly rare moral purpose. If only he had been content to rest on being the most important chancellor of the Exchequer for a century and had abandoned his obsession with being prime minister.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

In 1945, when lasting and important change was achieved through political action.

What TV show could you not live without?

Peston on Wednesday nights. It pays the bills. Or anything made by Peter Kay.

Who would paint your portrait?

There have already been too many piss-taking cartoon caricatures of me for the world to need any more.

What’s your theme tune?

I’ve always thought of Beethoven’s late string quartet No.14, Op. 131 as the noise at the back of my brain. If anyone is with me when I’m dying, please play it to me.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My dad, who was an economist, would harp on about not crying over spilled milk. Which is not surprising since the concept of “sunk costs” – the technical term – is key in economics. It has governed my life.

What’s currently bugging you?

That our leaders, even after the world was caught napping by Covid-19, are again engaged in wishful thinking by failing to take the important decisions to decelerate climate change.

What single thing would make your life better?

Coffee is my most important daily treat. If I weren’t such a puritan, I would buy a top-of-the-range espresso machine.

When were you happiest?

As a question that doesn’t really compute for me because I always try to make the best of things. It is the terrible lows that punctuate my life.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I would have been a great rabbi, if only I was a believer.

Are we all doomed?

I’ve made a career out of shouting that we’re heading for the edge of a cliff. But our species’ creativity tends to pull us through in the end.

“The Whistleblower”, a novel by Robert Peston, is published by Zaffre

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This article appears in the 20 Oct 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Twilight of the West