Hitchens's memorial: a reader

Another chance to read extracts from the writer's final interview with Richard Dawkins.

Four months on from Christopher Hitchens's untimely death, Vanity Fair is hosting a memorial service in his honour in New York. The line-up of speakers is predictably dazzling: Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Stephen Fry, Christopher Buckley, Francis Collins, the former director of the Human Genome Project, and physicist Lawrence Krauss.

A few weeks before Hitchens's death, Richard Dawkins, the New Statesman's Christmas guest-editor, travelled to Texas to interview him for the magazine. It was to be his final interview.

We will shortly be publishing their conversation online in full but for now here are some exclusive extracts from that interview as well as the best Hitchens-related content from the NS archive.

1. Preview: Richard Dawkins interviews Christopher Hitchens

Exclusive extracts from the writer's final interview.

2.Christopher Hitchens, the enemy of the totalitarian

New Statesman editor Jason Cowley reflects on Hitchens's place in Anglo-American letters.

3. The state of Spain

Hitchens reports from Madrid in 1976, following the death of Franco.

4. Being Christopher Hitchens

George Eaton's interview with Hitchens from May 2010 in which he remarked of David Cameron: "He seems content-free to me. Never had a job, except in PR, and it shows. People ask, 'What do you think of him?' and my answer is: 'He doesn't make me think."

5. Please, let's not do God

In 2009, Hitchens attacked Tony Blair's Faith Foundation, writing that Blair’s "new banality" rises "almost to Queen’s Christmas broadcast level".

6. Arguably, reviewed by John Gray

The NS's lead book reviewer writes of Hitchens's final collection of essays: "Coming from one of the greatest living writers of English prose, Arguably is the testament of a prodigiously gifted mind. To say that, during the past three decades, the world would have been poorer, duller and altogether a smaller place without Hitchens and his writings would be to utter a cliché of the kind he despises. It would also be true."

7. Christopher Hitchens: the New Statesman years

George Eaton talks to Hitchens's former New Statesman colleagues about his time at the magazine.

8. Iraq Flexes Arab Muscle

In 1976, Hitchens visited Iraq and wrote that Saddam Hussain had "sprung from being an underground revolutionary gunman to perhaps the first visionary Arab statesman since Nasser."

9. Am I a dwarf or a horseman?

In a 2007 diary, Hitchens wrote of his fellow athiests Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins: "it's an honour to be mentioned in the same breath as these men. If there were seven of us, the clever press would call us dwarves. As we are a quartet, we are doomed to be called the Gang of Four or the Four Musketeers. My own nomination - the Four Horsemen of the Counter-Apocalypse - is a bit cumbersome and I'd welcome suggestions."

10. Hitch’s Rolls-Royce mind is still purring

In November 2011, just a few weeks before his death, Hitchens's comrades and friends, including Martin Amis, James Fenton, Salman Rushdie and Sean Penn, paid tribute to him at the Royal Festival Hall in London. George Eaton reviewed the evening for the NS.

A young Christopher Hitchens outside the offices of the New Statesman, where he was hired in 1973. Photograph: Rex Features.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Should London leave the UK?

Almost 60 per cent of Londoners voted to stay in the EU. Is it time for the city to say good by to Brexit Britain and go it alone?

Amid the shocked dismay of Brexit on Friday morning, there was some small, vindictive consolation to be had from the discomfort of Boris Johnson as he left his handsome home in EU-loving Islington to cat-calls from inflamed north London europhiles. They weren’t alone in their displeasure at the result. Soon, a petition calling for “Londependence” had gathered tens of thousands of names and Sadiq Khan, Johnson’s successor as London mayor, was being urged to declare the capital a separate city-state that would defiantly remain in the EU.

Well, he did have a mandate of a kind: almost 60 per cent of Londoners thought the UK would be Stronger In. It was the largest Remain margin in England – even larger than the hefty one of 14 per cent by which Khan defeated Tory eurosceptic Zac Goldsmith to become mayor in May – and not much smaller than Scotland’s. Khan’s response was to stress the importance of retaining access to the single market and to describe as “crucial” London having an input into the renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU, alongside Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It’s possible to take a dim view of all this. Why should London have a special say in the terms on which the UK withdraws from the EU when it ended up on the wrong side of the people’s will? Calling for London to formally uncouple from the rest of the UK, even as a joke to cheer gloomy Inners up, might be seen as vindicating small-town Outer resentment of the metropolis and its smug elites. In any case, it isn’t going to happen. No, really. There will be no sovereign Greater London nation with its own passport, flag and wraparound border with Home Counties England any time soon.

Imagine the practicalities. Currency wouldn’t be a problem, as the newborn city-state would convert to the euro in a trice, but there would be immediate secessionist agitation in the five London boroughs of 32 that wanted Out: Cheam would assert its historic links with Surrey; stallholders in Romford market would raise the flag of Essex County Council. Then there is the Queen to think about. Plainly, Buckingham Palace could no longer be the HQ of a foreign head of state, but given the monarch’s age would it be fair to turf her out?

Step away from the fun-filled fantasy though, and see that Brexit has underlined just how dependent the UK is on London’s economic power and the case for that power to be protected and even enhanced. Greater London contains 13 per cent of the UK’s population, yet generates 23 per cent of its economic output. Much of the tax raised in London is spent on the rest of the country – 20 per cent by some calculations – largely because it contains more business and higher earners. The capital has long subsidised the rest the UK, just as the EU has funded attempts to regenerate its poorer regions.

Like it or not, foreign capital and foreign labour have been integral to the burgeoning of the “world city” from which even the most europhobic corners of the island nation benefit in terms of public spending. If Leaver mentality outside the capital was partly about resentment of “rich London”, with its bankers and big businesses – handy targets for Nigel Farage – and fuelled by a fear of an alien internationalism London might symbolise, then it may prove to have been sadly self-defeating.

Ensuring that London maintains the economic resilience it has shown since the mid-Nineties must now be a priority for national government, (once it decides to reappear). Pessimists predict a loss of jobs, disinvestment and a decrease in cultural energy. Some have mooted a special post-Brexit deal for the capital that might suit the interests of EU member states too – London’s economy is, after all, larger than that of Denmark, not to mention larger than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined – though what that might be and how that could happen remain obscure.

There is, though, no real barrier to greater devolution of powers to London other than the political will of central government. Allowing more decisions about how taxes raised in the capital are spent in the capital, both at mayoral and borough level, would strengthen the city in terms of managing its own growth, addressing its (often forgotten) poverty and enhancing the skills of its workforce.

Handing down control over the spending of property taxes, as set out in an influential 2013 report by the London Finance Commission set up by Mayor Johnson, would be a logical place to start. Mayor Khan’s manifesto pledged to campaign for strategic powers over further education and health service co-ordination, so that these can be better tailored to London’s needs. Since Brexit, he has underlined the value of London securing greater command of its own destiny.

This isn’t just a London thing, and neither should it be. Plans are already in place for other English cities and city regions to enjoy more autonomy under the auspices of directly elected “metro mayors”, notably for Greater Manchester and Liverpool and its environs. One of the lessons of Brexit for the UK is that many people have felt that decisions about their futures have been taken at too great a distance from them and with too little regard for what they want and how they feel.

That lesson holds for London too – 40 per cent is a large minority. Boris Johnson was an advocate of devolution to London when he was its mayor and secured some, thanks to the more progressive side of Tory localism. If he becomes prime minister, it would be good for London and for the country as a whole if he remembered that.  

Dave Hill writes the Guardian’s On London column. Find him on Twitter as @DaveHill.