When I was a reporter on the Sunday Telegraph during the early 1990s, Andrew Neil was viewed, in a certain sense, as the enemy. The Sunday Times was the broadsheet market leader in terms of sales. The Telegraph was trying to catch up (little has changed). Furthermore, Neil was a low Tory whereas Charles Moore, the then Editor (and, as he remains, Greatest Living Englishman), was a high Tory.
In other words, they agreed on much, but disagreed about the role of institutions, such as the Monarchy: Neil was inclined to attack them, Moore to defend them. Neil re-invented himself as a TV presenter long ago, but the clip below from This Week, put up by James Forsyth on Coffee House, demonstrates how brilliantly and brutally he does penetrating interviews.
His subject is Diane Abbott. Abbott has had masses of TV experience – much of it acquired on This Week – and, partly because of it, has fought an punchy Labour leadership campaign to date. But she's no answer to a simple question from Neil: does she believe that West Indian mothers are better mothers than other mothers? During the contest, Abbott's often been seen as a fizzy challenger. Neil made her look like a flighty lightweight.
He retains the pugnacity, the restlessness, the sense of being an outsider that I remember from the 1990s. His right-of-centre flavour is refreshing and unexpected in its BBC context. He must have a mean streak: it takes a certain remorselessness of soul to beat up, as he did, someone who's a partner on his programme. Or perhaps he was just being professional. Either way, he's the BBC's best political interviewer.