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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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.