Peston on UK elections and economy

The BBC broadcaster on fatherhood, economic policy and UK exports


In March, Robert Peston will step down from his post as business editor of the BBC. But as the corporation’s new economics editor, the 53-year-old journalist is not going too far.

He tells the JC that the new role will provide new challenges and simultaneously allow him to maintain a work-life balance.

“I’ve been business editor for about eight years now – I felt like a bit of a change,” says Peston. “When Stephanie Flanders [former BBC economics editor] announced that she was going to JP Morgan, I was brought in to consult on her replacement. In the end, I thought I might enjoy it and put my name forward.

“It felt like the right thing to do. It is familiar territory, but different enough to be fun.

“UKIP will be a major factor in our coverage of elections”

“My priorities remain my boy [Maximilian] and family since my wife Siân died. This change will allow me to still devote time to my family. It’s very important to me.”

Peston will pivotally be covering economic policy ahead of the 2015 general and European elections. He says it’s a “huge responsibility”. But under his watch, the economic policy of minority parties, including UKIP, will be reported alongside the higher-profile Conservative, Labour and Liberal Demorat parties.

“UKIP will have a big influence on the European election, as well as the general election as they’re taking voters from both the Conservative and Labour parties. Even if UKIP don’t win the general election, they can do well in the European elections and so will be a major factor in our coverage.”

But as part of the taxpayer-funded broadcaster, Peston is quick to say that “we have to give a balanced view in our coverage. We must remain strictly impartial. As we get nearer the election, we will be shining a light on the economic and business policies of many parties so people can make their make up their own mind.

“The economy is going to be at the heart of the election battle. The BBC has to be reasonably objective in its coverage.”

In his new role, Peston will cover the British economy, from retail to energy and services industry – which accounts for around 70 per cent of the UK economy.

“The British economy is great,” he says. “People are our best asset. We’re intelligent and speak the language of global business. In that, we’re very lucky.”

But Peston says the UK economy is lagging in exports: “It’s at the front of my mind – we don’t sell enough to the rest of the world. We have got to get better at it because if we don’t sell more in the coming year, the UK economy will be in real trouble – recovery will run out of steam very soon.”

Peston believes that “we were too blasé as a nation in the way we saw our manufacturing industry shrink. We have world-class manufacturers and it would be great if we saw more of them.”

Muswell Hill-based Peston, a self-professed “secular Jew”, has spent over 30 years working in the field of financial journalism, having initially pursuing a career in stockbrocking.

Peston starts his new job in March. He will be replaced by Sunday Telegraph business editor Kamal Ahmed, who said it was “a great privilege” to follow in his footsteps.

“Economics is an area I know,” adds Peston. “I can’t pretend it’s unfamiliar territory, but this will present new challenges. I have always been an investigative journalist, and this will give me a chance to look at the massive changes the British and global economy is going through.”

Last updated: 12:45pm, January 2 2014