What prompted Bust?, your new book?
Every few years I want to make sense of the big stuff happening in the world. Writing books is my way of doing that. Since 2021, I’ve started to do this in fiction. Both my thrillers, The Whistleblower and The Crash, are rooted in events that happened – namely Labour’s 1997 landslide and the 2007-8 global financial crisis. But more conventionally I have written five non-fiction books, which are my attempt to chronicle and explain the big economic, social and political changes of Britain and the West over the past 30 years. My previous non-fiction, WTF, was my account of why the UK voted for Brexit. Much has happened since then, most of it bad. So, it was time to explain where we are and where we are going, as far as my co-author Kish and I can. That’s what Bust? tries to do.
What factors made you think we’d reached “a year zero” in the West?
It’s a moment where we have to make big choices. We have to invest for the long term. We have to embrace the huge potential of AI to end our economic stagnation and enrich our lives, while protecting ourselves against the economic disruption and the real threats to life and liberty. We are seeing the creation of a silicon life form. This will change how we think of ourselves, as much as how we live. We also have to decide whether to pursue culture wars that are shredding the fabric of society, or draw breath and try to get back to a culture of mutual understanding.
Have you known a glummer era in your lifetime?
The relative stability of the economic golden age between 1992 and the 2007/8 crash – which we didn’t appreciate for what it was – was the anomaly. The current global volatility, the geopolitical divisions, are the norm for the past few hundred years. That said, the potential for catastrophe is high, because we face so many low-probability, high impact events – from the extremes of climate-change destruction, to China’s determination to seize control of Taiwan, to the terrible events in the Middle East, to another viral pandemic, Putin’s unfinished business, and the existential challenge of AI. I am not glum. I am just a realist about the imperative for us to face up to the risks we face, and for governments to do more to prepare
What’s your verdict on Boris Johnson’s time as PM?
How much time do you have?
How has the crisis in Israel and Gaza affected your book’s conclusions?
It hasn’t at all. It has reinforced my view that governments have been been naïve and reckless for years in ignoring the inequalities within countries, between countries and between peoples, inequalities that sow conflict.
What did you make of Trussonomics?
The financial crisis caused by her and Kwarteng’s mini budget was more frightening than the 2007/8 banking crisis, because it was caused by those we depend on to protect us from financial and economic trauma.
Your father Maurice Peston was an economist who became a Labour life peer – how did he influence you?
The most important thing I learned from dad was never to cry over spilled milk. It’s as important a precept in economic policymaking as in life.
Is there anything to be cheerful about? (Go on, save our sanity)
There is lots to be cheerful about. There is so much creativity on display in the arts. New technologies are enriching our existence at a pace and on a scale we’ve barely known in history. I am not
If you could wave a wand, what one measure would stabilise the economy?
There is no one measure. Bust? spells out lots of things we could do to make the UK and the west more stable and prosperous.
You wrote a book about Gordon Brown. How will posterity judge him?
He and Tony Blair are both complex people. And like all of us they are flawed. But they are also towering politicians, who had big ambitions and achieved more for the UK than perhaps they are given the credit for.
You set up Speakers for Schools. What advice would you give teenagers?
Setting up Speakers for Schools is the single initiative of which I am most proud. We reach half a million state school students through our two programmes, offering inspirational talks and work experience. My advice to all young people is to recognise that they are all talented in different ways, to make the most of themselves, and not to let the bastards grind them down.
You’ve suffered from OCD since your teens. How does it manifest now?
I have my private rituals for containing its more extreme manifestations.
You’re active on the sanity-testing social media site X, fka Twitter. Do you ever consider quitting?
Not really. I screen out the mayhem.
What do you enjoy most about writing fiction?
I can write what I really think.
How do you relax? (Do you relax?)
Going to Arsenal.
What’s your motto?
North London Forever.
“Bust? Saving the Economy, Democracy and Our Sanity” (Hodder & Stoughton) by Robert Peston & Kishan Koria is out now