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20 May 2010

Peter Hitchens wins Orwell Prize

The veteran political journalist is commended for his foreign correspondence.

By Daniel Trilling

The columnist and reporter Peter Hitchens has been awarded this year’s Orwell Prize for journalism. Hitchens won the prize for his foreign correspondence, published in the Mail on Sunday, of which the Orwell judges said:

In choosing this year’s winner, we went back to Orwell. In one of his essays, he wrote of Charles Dickens: “When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page . . . It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a 19th-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.” It is with this in mind that we award the Orwell Prize to Peter Hitchens.

Hitchens is nowadays known for his conservative views. Here he is on his resignation from the Daily Express when it was bought by Richard Desmond in 2000. But last year, in a review of his book The Broken Compass: How British Politics Lost Its Way, the former New Statesman editor Anthony Howard (who edited the magazine between 1972 and 1978) recalled a time when the writer, in his youth, ascribed to a very different kind of politics.

In my mind’s eye I can see him now, a clutch of copies of Socialist Worker under his arm, as he advanced slightly nervously into the dingy light of a wine bar in Holborn that the staff of the New Statesman used to frequent once the day’s tasks were over.

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Elsewhere the Book Prize went to Keeper, Andrea Gillies‘s account of caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s, and special mention went to the NS contributor Laurie Penny, who was pipped to the post in the Blogs category by the pseudonymous social worker Winston Smith.