Hitchens: "I'm not going to quit until I absolutely have to"

Writer makes first public appearance for months in Texas.

It's been several months since we've heard from Christopher Hitchens but the great polemicist appeared on Saturday at the Atheist Alliance of America convention in Houston, Texas. Hitchens, who is being treated at the nearby MD Anderson Cancer Center for stage IV oesophageal cancer, collected the Richard Dawkins Freethinker of the Year Award at the event.

He told the crowd that his "time" was rapidly approaching but added: "I'm not going to quit until I absolutely have to."

Though physically frail, Hitchens, who I interviewed for the NS last year, retains his remarkable mental agility.

In his acceptance speech, he said:

We have the same job that we have always had, to say as thinking people and as humans that there are no final solutions, there is no absolute truth, there is no supreme leader, there is no totalitarian solution that says if you will just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you will simply abandon your critical faculties, a world of idiotic bliss will be yours.

You can watch footage of Dawkins presenting the award and Hitchens accepting it below.

Dawkins's presentation

Hitchens's acceptance

 

Hat-tip: Why Evolution Is True

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.