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Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK

UK Politics

Brothers at war over Britain

Hitchens vs Hitchens: Good-natured grudge match

By BBC News Online's Ed Main

Most family arguments about politics are best ignored but when the warring relatives are the Hitchens brothers you can sell tickets.

A brace of newspaper editors, several Booker Prize winners and one disgraced former Labour lobbyist were among the hundreds who packed a London hall to hear two of journalism's most famous siblings slug it out.

Anyone hoping that the debate, entitled "Let's abolish Britain", would turn into an intellectual dust-up between Christopher and Peter Hitchens was not disappointed.

The issues of the UK, its relationship with Europe and the question of national identity threw the well-documented differences between the brothers into bold contrast.

Christopher Hitchens: It has never me worried that the Tories are not reactionary enough
In the blue corner, Peter, former Trotskyite turned right-wing pitbull of the Daily Express. The man who unsuccessfuly sought to become the Tory candidate for the Kensington and Chelsea by-election because he believed his rival Michael Portillo was too "wishy-washy".

Over in the red corner, the elder of the two, Christopher. A celebrated Washington-based journalist and author whose elegant demolitions of the reputations of Bill Clinton and Mother Teresa are much admired in left-wing circles.

Refereeing the debate, put on by Prospect magazine, was the Today programme presenter John Humphrys.

'Britain under attack'

[ image: Peter Hitchens: Left-wing intellectuals are ruining Britain]
Peter Hitchens: Left-wing intellectuals are ruining Britain
First up was Peter repeating the themes in his new book on the decline of Britain.

The things that make the UK great - its institutions, its Royal Family, its respect for married life - were under attack, he warned.

The villains of the piece were the left-wing "intellectuals" who had cast a spell over the country.

Peter Hitchens: This country has been better
Ill at ease with the notion of being British they were bent on reducing the UK to a "meaningless, history-free immoral and cultureless wilderness."

These destructive impulses could be seen at work in the damage done to British unity by new Labour through devolution he insisted.

'Euro foe'

But worse still was the "anti-British super-national state" of the European Union.

The "foe" across the water was intent on crushing British liberties beneath its federal yoke he warned.

The EU wanted to replace the pound with the evil "euro rouble" that was the single currency.

[ image: The single currency is the
The single currency is the "Euro Rouble" of EU domination warns Peter Hitchens
Traditionally Britain "stood for a set of values that were treasured by all free nations," he added.

"This is not a perfect country. Never has been never will be ... but it has been better, both for its own citizens and the world that it existed at all.

"The nation state in my view is the largest and best unit in which it is possible to be unselfish to be any real effect.

"To throw it away is to destroy away much more than a flag and a name. Without it, and increasingly we are without it, vital things die: civility, family, morality, restraint, language, kindness."

After thunderous applause Peter was challenged by his brother to justify a passage in his book in which he listed the Luftwaffe and revolutionary thinker Thomas Paine as comparable threats to the British way of life.

"National socialism has the same root as all other socialisms." he retorted.

'Institutions just don't work'

Hitting back Christopher rejected the idea that Labour was in any way radical.

[ image: The Monarchy is ripe for abolition says Christopher Hitchens]
The Monarchy is ripe for abolition says Christopher Hitchens
"I would say that the Labour Party was now the Conservative Party at prayer. In fact I don't think there has been a better time to be reactionary in this country," he said.

Britain was actually long overdue for change, he insisted.

Institutions such as the monarchy and the House of Lords "just don't work and they haven't for a long time".

Devolution had also been needed for a long time, he said. And common membership of the European Union was the glue that would bind the UK together while it underwent this necessary change, he added.

[ image: Christopher Hitchens: The European Union can help the UK manage devolution]
Christopher Hitchens: The European Union can help the UK manage devolution
"These changes institutional and social ones need some delicate management because they are capable of setting people against one another and arousing jealousy and resentment," he said.

"We don't want borders to be redrawn between Wales and England or Scotland and England."

'Fanatics not sceptics'

Turning to the Eurosceptics he insisted they were wrongly named.

Christopher Hitchens: Lady Thatcher's remarks are the British version of fascism
"Scepticism is a term of honour. Those people are not sceptical they are fanatical," he said.

Those who attacked the UK's European partners often did so with the "cruellest most vulgar insults."

Turning his fury on Lady Thatcher he added: "Those who go on about how English blood is the only thing that has saved the wretched mongrel continent makes me want throw up."

However, this encounter ended without any blood spilled as the two brothers shook hands and went back to their corners to fight another day.

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