Will Hutton on the visceral anti-Englishness that Andrew Neil shares with his former bossby Will Hutton / December 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Writing an autobiography mid-career is unusual. It remains to be seen if Andrew Neil’s book, Full Disclosure, will attract the same interest in the country as it has in the newsrooms of London; the odds cannot be high. But the book is important and readable, albeit more a self-glorifying cartoon history than a great work of journalistic reflection. The editor king makes the intervention that will save Eddie Shah from the pickets and so reform Fleet Street; he writes the leader that swings key votes against Thatcher in the 1990 leadership contest; the “establishment” quivers before his avenging keyboard. All is informed by “Neilism”-a primitive belief in markets, anti-state and anti-union with a tough approach to the “underclass,” but leavened by support for public investment, a commitment to constitutional change and strong support for the meritocracy. If you read the Sunday Times, you know the line.
Cartoons are enjoyable and often catch truths-and Full Disclosure is a remarkable insight into the culture and attitudes of the new conservative establishment that arrived in the 1980s, not to mention the window it offers into the Murdoch empire. It is Neil’s self-obsessed candour which saves the book; every time your interest flags he drops a juicy tit-bit, and sometimes a whole bag of sweets, into your lap.
Newsnight staff will be intrigued to learn that John Birt offered Neil the role of presenting Newsnight in 1987-he declined only because of unfinished business at the paper. Indeed, Birt turns up frequently at all the right, rightwing parties ready to applaud our hero. Rupert Murdoch’s preference for David Waddington over Michael Heseltine as Conservative leadership candidate is revealed. The radical conservative Irwin Stelzer is not only Murdoch’s closest adviser; he also chats with Tony Blair. And Jacques Santer, when prime minister of Luxembourg, is shown to have played a key role in helping Sky TV, agreeing that if it was closed in Britain, it could operate from Luxembourg.
The central paradox of the book is Andrew Neil’s definition of himself as an anti-establishment outsider-even as he celebrates his own role as triumphantly carrying all before him. He manages to share the culture of victimhood now pervasive in rightwing circles without recognising that insofar as there is now an establishment he was one of its key members for as long as he edited the Sunday Times. If Britain is in the grip of an unshakeable…