Christopher Hitchens: how Simon Hoggart improved my writing

Hitchens told the NS in 2010 that he credited the Guardian's parliamentary sketchwriter with making his prose more stylish.

The sad news of the death of Simon Hoggart, the Guardian's superlative parliamentary sketchwriter, reminded me of my 2010 interview with the late Christopher Hitchens. During our two hour conversation at The Arch hotel in London, Hitchens mentioned that he credited Hoggart with improving his prose (Kingsley Amis, casting a critical eye over his son's friends, called him "the one who can talk but can't write"). 

Hitchens told me: "I think it was at dinner at his house, some time in the late Seventies, I'd written a piece in the New Statesman and Hoggart said, 'Good piece, I agree with you, you've made a strong case this week. But I thought it was a bit dull.' And I bridled, 'What do you mean, dull? I was making a strong argument for the cause of the labour movement. Dullness doesn't come into it.' He replied: 'No, the thing is it's not as amusing to read you as it is to have a conversation with you. Why don't you try and write more as you talk?' That insight stayed with me."

For that, and much else, we are indebted to Hoggart. 

Simon Hoggart, who has died aged 67.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.