News, Politics

Harry Leslie Smith – A Reminder That Life Without Austerity Isn’t Just A Myth

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By Shawna Healey

Harry Leslie Smith is a British war veteran, writer and political commentator and activist, and is also 95 years old.  

Harry is by any definition an amazing and inspirational man, and is currently very sick. His son, John, has taken over his Twitter to his adoring followers updates. John has created the hashtag #IStandWithHarry, with the likes of Owen Jones and Jeremy Corbyn sending their love.

Smith has lived through the Great Depression at the beginning of the 20th century, served in the RAF during the Second Word War and has written several best-selling books, including the beloved Harry’s Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, And What We Can Do To Save It. 

In 1953, Smith emigrated to Toronto, Canada where he made a career in the Oriental rug trade, and had three sons with his wife, Friede. 

As well as writing for media outlets such as the Guardian and the New Statesmen, Smith also regularly tweets to his over a quarter of a million followers from all over the globe. 

An outspoken advocate for the Labour Party, Smith often tweets in opposition to austerity.

Smith gained attention in 2013 when he wrote a piece for The Guardian, stating that in the future he wasn’t going to wear a Remembrance Day poppy, as he believes that the poppy is being used to promote support for present-day conflicts. This movement is gaining traction, and debates surrounding the usage of the poppy, particularly among the far right, has been a hot topic this November.

Smith also often tweets in support of the National Health Service, and criticises Tory defunding of it. In September, he wroteL “Make no mistake with or without Brexit, the #NHS will not survive another 5 years of a Tory or centrist government.” 

This summer, Smith wrote in The Independent that “Turning my generation’s struggles into a myth has tethered us to inept politicians like Theresa May. … It allows us to wallow in the mediocrity of political indifference or ignorance, instead of raising us to the heights that are in every human being.”  

Harry Leslie Smith is important: he is a reminder that Britain doesn’t have to live under austerity, and that we can overcome adversity. He reminds us of the troubles Britain has been riddled with over the past century, and how his generation overcame some of them with the creation of the NHS in 1948. In Harry’s Last Stand, Smith says: “I’m not a historian, but at 91 I am history, and I fear its repetition”. On Russel Howard’s comedy tour last year, Smith also discussed the European migrant crisis and the rising dependence on food banks in the UK.  

Smith, or, as he calls himself, “The World’s Oldest Rebel”,  is an inspiration to many left-leaning individuals. He is not only a reminder to challenge the status quo, but as an icon in the growing fight against Conservative policies. He reminds us that economic stability – being able to live off a minimum wage without using food banks and without people dying because of poverty – isn’t a myth; he is a living example.

Smith’s sister died at the age of 10 of TB in a workhouse, and he lived in absolute poverty as a child. He now worries that we’ve come full circle, and as he fights to regain his health, he is a reminder of the vital importance of fighting for our collective future.

About the author / 

Shawna Healey

I'm Shawna, 21, and Welsh studying Geography at MMU. I have varying interests and opinions but usually its all things feminism.

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