Bring me the head of Roberto Peston: Client journalism is destroying what’s left of democracy

He was a journalist once, but the intoxicating effects of 'access' have changed that.

My job is to draw back the veil": Robert Peston responds to Peter Oborne |  openDemocracy

Is politics a parlour game? I don’t think so.

I think that despite the trappings of public school debating that lard every aspect of our system, politics is desperately serious. It is politics that Grenfell’s survivors and the families of those who died have not seen justice. It is politics that has now made it possible for informants to avoid prosecutions for crimes.

It is politics that has ensured that British troops will effectively be able to torture with impunity, or rather the MOD will be spared from having to fight legal cases when they do. It is politics that has left us floating here on Prison Ship Britain, rushing towards a future status as a failed and pariah state where only the establishment, the nu-rich, and the oligarchs who can bid to play tennis with the Prime Minister have access to justice, democracy and happiness.

We are rushing headlong towards a time when the system remains ‘one man, one vote’ but there’s is just one man and just one vote. The political reporters have a lot to answer for because while we still pretend that we have a parliamentary democracy based on constituencies and cabinet government, they report as if all that is done by the government is upon the holy writ of Tsar Boris Johnson and his Rabelaisian Rasputin, the unelected and unpleasant Dominic Cummings.


It is the political press that crowed “Classic Dom!” as the advisor began his path to pushing through his personal vision of the civil service and government. They accept that he can and will do as he pleases, with the Prime Minister a willing stooge.

And now, as the government pushes out nakedly authoritarian guidance to schools, banning teaching about any political philosophy other than its own red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism, the political press and media chuckles and frames the question as you might an amusing radio phone-in about whether dogs or cats are better:

Robert Peston once perpetrated the occasional act of journalism, but that was back in the days of New Labour. Since the arrival of the coalition in 2010, he has slid ever further into an intoxicated haze, high on the smell of his own farts and the delicious drug of access. One of his biggest sources is Dominic Cummings, from whom he receives delicious morsels, and for whom he has almost infinite forgiveness.

While it is clearly noted on his Wikipedia page, most people do not realise that Robert Peston should more accurately-styled as the Hon. Robert Peston. That title is his to use, though he chooses not to do so, because his father, now sadly dead, was Baron Maurice Peston.

Baron Peston founded the Economics Dept of Queen Mary College, London, and was an advisor to government departments and Labour Secretaries of State from the 1960s through to the 1990s. He became a life peer, styled as Baron Peston of Mile End, in 1987 and took on the role of Opposition Spokesperson for Energy, Education and Science, in the Lords. When Labour entered government in 1997, he chaired the Lords Committee on Economic Affairs from 1998 until 2005, going on to sit on committees examining the Constitution and the BBC Charter.

Baron Peston was a renowned secularist, associated with the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society. The one quote included on his Wikipedia page refers to those beliefs: “[I regard] all religious belief as failing to meet even the most elementary epistemological and deontological criteria.”

In the same way that we should not peg sons with the sins of their fathers, it’s not fair to view Peston, Robert through the prism of Peston, Maurice. However, it is instructive that the younger Peston seems to have given Tories an easier ride as a reporter and political editor than he ever did the New Labour establishment. Perhaps the fact that his father was within the inner circle meant he felt more pressure to kick back hard against implications of nepotism or cronyism. Since his father passed away and successive Conservative administrations have driven the Prison Ship even further out into lonely grey waters, those concerns seem to have gone.

I am assured by a mutual friend that Peston in person is a delightful human being. I am glad to hear it but I am interested only in Peston, the public figure, whom I consider to have become increasingly dedicated to client journalism, the support of the status quo, and the pursuit of protecting his cosy relationship with government sources, almost always quoted anonymously, than of vigorously chasing the truth.

I don’t trust Robert Peston to represent the world as it is. Instead, he offers a strange cartoonish inversion of things, treating politics as a world of simple point-scoring, of winners, losers, and lines to take. Years spent in Westminster and the carnival mirror world of the British media means Peston simply cannot and will not understand politics as something that has serious and often traumatic effects on ‘real’ people.

Robert Peston turns Rottweiler in his new Sunday show

Responding to criticisms of his work from Peter Oborne, who has gone from being a gamekeeper to one of the most effective poachers (and critics) in the British media, Peston argued:

“In politics, democracy is served when we know how those in power think and speak. My job is to draw back the veil as far as I can, so that citizens can judge them.”

I both believe that Robert Peston fully believes that is what he does on a daily basis and find such a contention to be laughable. For Robert Peston, the Conservative Party always seems worthy of the benefit of the doubt while the Labour Party and others — particularly during the Corbyn-era — are worthy of beady-eyed scrutiny. This state of play is observable by any bystander with a brain that has not been entirely colonised by the kind of brain worms that make you consider Dominic Cummings some kind of genius rather than a malevolent Mekon with a TED talk habit.

And while our mutual friend tells me that Peston does a lot for charity and is personally very kind, sensible, and cautious, the person that Robert Peston plays on television undermines all of these things. I cannot judge him on the fine words of a friend — who themselves admits that his journalism long ago became “cronyism.” Peston treats politics like a game because the stakes for him are very low. Whoever is in Downing Street will offer him information, and his excessive pay and privileged position seem unassailable.

It is Robert Peston’s interest that nothing changes. The status quo has been even better for him than denim was to the Status Quo. Actual journalism would only undermine everything Robert Peston has built, so he dedicates himself to the worst kind of showbiz for ugly people — politics as a circus act, showing off his sources with all the integrity and class of a man who has discovered he can manipulate his penis and testicles, and, with the addition of a pair of glasses, make them resemble Groucho Marx. Groucho said: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Robert Peston has never encountered a club he wouldn’t beg to be let into.