Christopher Hitchens

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MY friend Christopher Hitchens was the greatest English journalist since Orwell. He was best of comrades and friends who wrote more great words, read more essential books and drank more booze than anyone of our generation.

He spoke for me when I was 20 nothing standing in the 1974 election in the then safe Tory seat of Solihull. Already by then he had left his university Trotskyism to enjoy the ebb and flow of mainstream politics. He often told me he would have loved a few years on the green benches of the Commons. But he had far more influence as a writer than any MP can achieve.

He swam against the stream fighting tyranny and superstition like a modern Voltaire. He wrote against Tony Benn as he supported Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands War which he saw as a fight against the fascist antisemitic military junta in Argentina and he supported Tony Blair in his fight against a fascist dictator in Iraq.

Christopher was there on so many barricades - an early friend of Polish and Czech resistants to Soviet communism  in the 1970s, against the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus, against apartheid and against the petty nationalism of today’s Europhobes.

He went to America 30 years ago, leaving a provincial Britain for imperial Washington. While our Sir Maxwells and Sir Simons write whatever the Establishment wants to hear Hitchens lifted the veil of power to discuss and denounce the squalor often to be found underneath.

When some Labour politicians found excuses for the burning of Salman Rushdie’s novels, Christopher was out of the traps to denounce the book-burners just as he was writing until his last days denunciations of modern anti-semitism in its new disguises.

He was a man of the left but his left not the left of the bien-pensants of the Guardian or his first great home as a journalist, the New Statesman. In America, he became the best known English journalist ever.

Every time I stayed or saw him he knew everyone and everyone came to have dinner and watch with awe the liquor Hitch consumed. His strength lay in a love of English literature and he consumed books from both sides of the Atlantic. His best  pals were Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie or big minds who understood the role literature plays in politics like Colin MacCabe. 

He was Bollinger Bolshevik or rather a Bells Bolshevik and hardly a conversation would go by without a reference to Marx. He knew so much. He generously wrote an endorsement for the cover of a small book on Kosovo I just brought out and we were having email exchanges on the Bund, a nasty US Neo-Nazi outfit in the 1930s just a few months ago.

He accomplished far more with words written and spoken - he was one of the best conversationalists ever - than ever he might have done in pursuing a traditional political career.

There is no one around like him today. I am proud to have known him and there are few  men so loved by the good and despised by the trimmers and apologists for tyranny and conventional thinking.