Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
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.
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'
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.
These destructive impulses could be seen at work in the damage done to British unity by new Labour through devolution he insisted.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
"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.
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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