Peter Jonathan Hitchens (born 28 October 1951 in Sliema, Malta) is a British journalist and author, noted for his moral and cultural conservatism. A reporter for the Daily Express for most of his career, he left the paper in 2001 and currently writes for the The Mail on Sunday.
After an interval as a roving foreign reporter, he became the Express's Washington correspondent, returning to London in 1995 to become a commentator and, eventually, a regular columnist. He continued as a conservative voice despite the paper's general move to the Left and its decision in 1997 to support the Labour Party under Tony Blair.
In 2001, when the Express was bought by Richard Desmond, a publisher of pornographic magazines, Hitchens joined The Mail on Sunday; his strong anti-pornography views had, he argued, made his previous affiliation untenable. He currently writes a Mail on Sunday column, in addition to occasional reportage, including from China, Cuba, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Norway, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the USA. He has also written for "The Oxford Forum", a termly magazine distributed to members of the University of Oxford, The Spectator, a conservative British magazine, and on occasions for The Guardian and the New Statesman, despite these publications being broadly left-wing.
Hitchens is featured in the British broadcast media, often sparring with his opponents, though he has also authored documentaries on Channel 4 and BBC Four. In the past, he co-presented a programme on Talk Radio with Labour pundits including Derek Draper and Austin Mitchell. He says he was offered the chance to present the programme on his own by the station's boss, Kelvin MacKenzie, but preferred, and suggested, an adversarial programme with a left-wing co-presenter, believing that this was the best way to achieve broadcast fairness and balance.
He joined the Conservative Party in 1997, but concluded that the Party had no idea what it was facing and would never be able to challenge New Labour, and subsequently left in 2003. Hitchens challenged Michael Portillo for the Conservative Party nomination in the Kensington and Chelsea seat in 1999. Some critics suggest that his failure to secure the nomination explains much of his antipathy towards the Conservative Party, a claim Hitchens rejects on the basis of his having had no serious expectation of being chosen: He maintains that he put himself forward only to criticise Portillo and his plan to 'modernise' the Party. By now often referred to as 'Bonkers' by critics and opponents, he rejects the nickname: "I don't like being called 'bonkers' and I think to some extent it demeans people who use phrases like that. But I take comfort from the fact that most totalitarian regimes tend to classify their opponents as mentally disordered."
He is now politically independent, and believes that no party he could support will be created until the Conservative Party disintegrates. He also dismisses the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) as "amateurish" with "a blazer-and-cravat feel to it which limits its appeal to the same sort of areas where the Tory Party still stumbles about in its prolonged death throes, the Southern English middle classes.
Unlike the conventional right, Hitchens is critical of neoconservatism, and for this reason was opposed to the Kosovo and Iraq wars. He argues that a dogmatic allegiance to unfettered free-market liberalism is no substitute for Christian morality, and that the free market, pursued dogmatically, can often damage institutions which conservatives should value. He points out that state ownership and control are not invariably bad, giving the Royal Navy as an example of an excellent state-owned and controlled institution. He also supports railway renationalisation, and mocks Tories for their belief that road transport, heavily state subsidised, is in some way more conservative than railways. He has said that he wishes the motor car had never been invented because of the damage it has done to society. He has frequently criticised Thatcherism for ignoring the value of institutions and traditions, and has said the left are not entirely wrong when they accuse the Thatcher government of having damaged British society.
In propounding his social conservative views, Hitchens frequently criticises political correctness, which he considers to be a manifestation of Cultural Marxism. He says it is important to acknowledge that the Left has been correct in its long opposition to racism and describes the word "nigger" as immoral and obscene. He argues, however, in opposition to the Left, that genuine good manners, tolerance and decency are impossible, in the long term, without the foundation of traditional morality and religious faith. But he argues that opponents of political correctness will fail unless they accept that it has some good elements and that it is attractive to many because of its promotion of simple good manners.
He warns that the decline of conscience and morality will inevitably lead to a strong state. He is especially critical of the use of "security" as a pretext for diluting and eroding individual liberty. He argues that increased "security" destroys freedom without necessarily increasing safety, and says that there is no contradiction between maintaining liberty and protecting the realm.
Hitchens is critical of moves towards authoritarian government and the erosion of civil liberties, whether they come from the Right or the Left of the political spectrum. Accordingly, he has been highly critical of the British government's desire for identity cards, its attempts to abolish jury trial, to centralise the police, and its creation of a national law enforcement body in the form of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). He describes these things as facets of governmental desire for permanent, irreversible constitutional revolution, and an "attack on English liberty" in general. In his newspaper columns, Hitchens referred to David Blunkett, British Home Secretary between 2001 and 2004, as "Minister of the Interior", on the grounds that the title, reminiscent of police states, better reflected Blunkett's policies than the traditional British title of "Home Secretary".
Hitchens is opposed to the relaxation of laws against the possession of illegal recreational drugs. He argues that the law's active disapproval of drug taking is an essential counterweight to the "pro-drug propaganda" of popular culture. He has said that attempts to combat drug use by restricting supply and persecuting dealers are futile, if possession and use are not punished as well. He answers claims that the "War on Drugs" has failed by suggesting that there has been no serious war on drugs for many years. Hitchens has said that the approach, known as "harm reduction", is defeatist and counter-productive. He was among the earliest commentators to argue that cannabis was a major mental health danger to some users.
Hitchens condemned the 1998 Belfast Agreement as a surrender to the Provisional IRA and a violation of the rule of law. He believes that the best approach to solving Northern Ireland's problems would have been the full integration of Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom, arguing that creating a Northern Irish Parliament at Stormont was mistaken because it prevented the integration of the six counties of Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom. He believes that the achievements of direct rule over Northern Ireland, in removing discrimination against Roman Catholics, have been greatly underestimated. He maintains that Northern Ireland is now only a provisional part of the UK, since, under the 1998 Belfast Agreement, it can be transferred to Irish sovereignty by a single irreversible referendum.
On Europe, Hitchens argues that the United Kingdom should negotiate an amicable departure from the European Union, whose laws and traditions he regards as incompatible with the laws and liberties of England, and with the national independence of the United Kingdom as a whole. He also believes that the interests of the European Union are often different from — and in many cases hostile to — those of the United Kingdom. Hitchens also opposes devolution in Scotland and Wales, regarding these changes not as steps towards real independence, but as part of a European Union-inspired strategy to dissolve Great Britain into statelets and regions, a preliminary to its complete absorption in a European state. For the same reason, he opposes plans to divide England itself into regions.
In support of this thesis, Hitchens cites, among other things, what he describes as serial attacks on the institution of marriage by the State. He identifies these attacks as the introduction of no-fault divorce, the removal or redistribution of what were formerly the exclusive privileges of marriage, and its resultant loss of status and regard, the abolition of the Christian Sunday and the growing economic and cultural pressure on wives and mothers to go out to work. He believes that without faith and without strong families, the development of conscience is stunted, private life is diminished, and the power of the state increased.
He believes that many of the measures which created the "permissive society" were mistaken or excessive and need to be re-examined, and he believes that homosexual relationships should not be granted legal parity with heterosexual marriage. However, Hitchens maintains that he has nothing against homosexuals, and rejects the term "homophobia" in this context as an epithet which he argues is increasingly used to stifle legitimate debate on social policy.
Hitchens opposes the compulsory metrication of Britain's weights and measures, which he believes are both beautiful and practical, rooted in experience and an important part of the English language. He is an Anglican, and he defends the use of the Church of England's 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible, not only because he believes they are beautiful and memorable, but also because he feels that they are the indispensable foundations of Anglicanism's "powerful combination of scripture, tradition and reason". He is also sceptical of human-caused global warming.
As a supporter of orthodox Christian morality, Hitchens opposes sex education in schools. He points out that the general introduction of sex education in schools has been accompanied by an increase in sexual activity among the young, with a resultant rise in pregnancies, abortions and instances of sexually transmitted diseases, the very things that sex education is intended to discourage. He suggests that the two may be connected, and that in any case the argument that sex education protects the young against early pregnancy or disease is false.
He regards the well known children's television programme Teletubbies as another sign of the degradation of modern Britain, claiming that "our obsession with television is highlighted by the curious creatures having TV sets built into their stomachs".
Hitchens argues that neither he nor anyone else knows how life began or how the realm of nature assumed its present form. He says he is willing to accept the possibility that evolutionists may be right, and asks that they will extend the same courtesy to theists. He agrees with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins that a belief in the truth of evolutionary theory, properly understood, is incompatible with a theist position. He maintains that the question remains a matter of choice, and that intelligent people should be free to decide for themselves which explanation they prefer. He does not criticise evolutionary theory, believing it to be an ingenious possible explanation of the origins of species, but one which he himself prefers not to embrace.
Like many other sceptics on this subject, Hitchens does not subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. In a review of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by his brother, he stated that, "many decades have passed since I fancied the story of Adam and Eve was literal truth, if I ever did.
Hitchens contends that the most profound changes brought about by the Labour Party have been designed to concentrate power in the hands of the executive, to debauch civil service neutrality, and to turn Parliament into a tool of Downing Street. In Hitchens' view, the most significant single action in this programme was the passing of Orders in Council allowing Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, both political appointees, to give orders to civil servants. It signalled, in his view, a general attempt to politicise Whitehall which has continued ever since. He claims to have detected a parallel effort to appropriate some of the trappings of monarchy and to diminish the Crown's significance and standing, which he sees as embryonic presidentialism.
Hitchens has also often caricatured Blair as "Princess Tony". This is a reference to Blair's use of the expression "The People's Princess" to euologise Diana, Princess of Wales, after her death. Hitchens is also heavily critical of Blair's successor Gordon Brown, describing him as a "boring, dismal Marxoid.
He is also critical of what he considers to be a continuing idolatry of Margaret Thatcher, who, in his view, weakened Britain's institutions and failed to address moral or cultural questions. Hitchens has expressed contempt for David Cameron, the current Conservative Party leader, regarding him as a member of the "liberal elite" with little conception of the challenges facing modern Britain. He argues that the Conservatives have, indiscriminately, adopted the policies of their opponents over the last century out of an unprincipled desire for office at all costs.
In March 2007 Hitchens wrote and presented a television programme for Channel 4, Toff at the Top, in which he argued this view. Hitchens views Cameron's social, educational, and foreign policies as being indistinguishable from Blair's. To further emphasize this point, he often refers to the two men in tandem as "Mr. Clair and Mr. Blameron". Cameron, having declined previous interview requests from Hitchens, also declined to be interviewed for this programme, and has since described Hitchens (at a public meeting) as a "maniac". James Walton in a Daily Telegraph review was largely unimpressed by Hitchens' television programme: "Hitchens...stuck firmly to the Tory equivalent of a Bennite line: that winning power matters less than ideological correctness. His analysis was far more thought-provoking than the straightforward rant I expected. Even so, it did create the sense that (like Benn before him) Hitchens is fighting a battle which has already been comprehensively lost".
Hitchens has called for the establishment of a new political party in the UK, representing the traditionalist conservative strand of opinion that he espouses, and which would, in his own words, be "neither bigoted nor politically correct". He believes that such a movement cannot come into being until the Conservative Party collapses, arguing that many millions of Britons habitually vote for this and other political parties out of tribal loyalty, from which they cannot be detached by reasoned argument.
The brothers were estranged for several years, following a 2001 article in The Spectator in which Peter alleged his brother had said he "didn't care if the Red Army watered its horses at Hendon", which Christopher said was used "in the reactionary press in the US" to imply that he was a "communist sympathiser". However, after the birth of Peter's third child, Christopher expressed a willingness to reconcile and to meet his new nephew. Shortly thereafter the brothers gave several interviews together in which they said their personal disagreements had been resolved, the most notable being their meeting at the Hay Festival in 2005. Christopher clarified this in an interview the following year: "There is no longer any official froideur", he says of their relationship. "But there's no official — what's the word? — chaleur, either." Peter's recent review of Christopher's book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything led to public argument between the brothers but not to any renewed estrangement. On 21 June, 2007, both Hitchens brothers appeared on BBC TV's Question Time, where they clashed over the intervention in Afghanistan (and other issues), with Christopher remarking that he was "ashamed to hear a member of the Hitchens family sounding like Harold Pinter on a bad day".
In April 2008 the brothers held a long debate before a large audience at the Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The debate was divided into two parts, dealing with the invasion of Iraq and the existence of God, respectively. Peter Hitchens said both before and during the debate that it would be the last time he would participate in such an event with his brother.
Reviews of Toff at the Top in: