Hitchens on cancer and God

Writer gives first television interview since being diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.

Christopher Hitchens, whom I interviewed earlier this year for the NS, has given his first TV interview since he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in June. It's encouraging to see that, despite his grave condition, he's lost none of his lucidity and wit.

In the interview, with CNN's Anderson Cooper, he responds to those who are hoping (and praying) for a "deathbed conversion":

If that comes it'll be when I'm very ill, when I'm half-demented either by drugs or by pain and I won't have control over what I say. I mention this in case you hear a rumour later on . . . I can't say that the entity that by then wouldn't be me, wouldn't do such a pathetic thing. But I can tell you: not while I'm lucid, no.

Elsewhere, he acknowledges that he had been, as puts it, "taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction".

"If you smoke, which I did for many years, very heavily . . . and if you use alcohol, you make yourself a candidate for it," he says.

He adds: "If you can hold it down on the smokes and the cocktails you may be well advised to do so."

I'd also recommend reading Hitchens's remarkable essay for this month's Vanity Fair, "Topic of cancer". It's an extraordinarily controlled and moving piece of writing. Here's one of a series of memorable lines:

To the dumb question "Why me?" the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Lord Geoffrey Howe dies, age 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.