Hats off to Harry!

We’re not shy about promoting our own book here, but if you’re looking for a non-fiction companion to Lady Thatcher’s Wink for a good Christmas read we reckon you can do no better than read Harry’s Last Stand.

Harry Leslie Smith, who’s now 94, came to national attention three years ago when he penned a piece for the Guardian with the heading ‘This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time’. It was written in both anger and sorrow, and it was shared 60,000 times on Facebook.

We’ve just read Harry’s moving book, telling of his Yorkshire upbringing in wretched poverty during the Depression – among the worst of it, and there’s much almost as bad, watching over an older sister crippled by tuberculosis and dying, still a girl, in the local workhouse. He and his friends in the Bradford slums foraged for scraps, part of a huge working class used as drudges while the rich got richer.

Harry’s Last Stand is a tale of deprivation and suffering and, eventually, a rescue from that suffering. (Harry joined the RAF during the war and forged a life of relative comfort in later days.) But it’s not simply a personal story. Harry’s book has its heroes, and in particular the members of the post-war Labour government who created the welfare state which gave the ordinary people of this country free healthcare, free education and their dignity.

It also has its villains, and they’re not hard to find. They’re the politicians who in our own time have begun to dismantle the National Health Service and, through austerity, to make life harder for those least able to cope. They’re the tabloid editors who demonise the poor as feckless scroungers.

‘Our governments and the right-wing media,’ he writes, ‘have toyed with our nervousness over the economy, over the state of the world and over our personal lives like they are poking a fire. They have sold fear to the people like the markets sell fish on Friday.

‘Sadly, the politics of fear work. People have grown indifferent to the concerns of those who are less well off than themselves.’

While Lady Thatcher’s Wink excoriates this state of affairs through fictional satire, Harry’s Last Stand is a distillation of a long lifetime’s experience of hardship, fresh hope and present despair. It’s published by Icon Books, and we heartily recommend it.

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