January 2015

Reviewed by Barrie Clement

Harry's Last Stand - book cover‘Keep your  mitts off my NHS!’ (*) Harry Leslie Smith is the extraordinary 91-year old campaigner who electrified the 2014 Labour Party conference. His book is just as powerful.

When midnight chimes again
The name of the book is almost certainly inappropriate. Harry’s last stand it ain’t. At 91 Harry Smith is still going strong. And the book, about the dreadful deprivation he endured in the 30s and his deep concern that we heading back to those bitter days, is proof of his vigour.

Harry is planning a few more ‘last stands’ – a book about his experiences in the Second World War and another one about the coming general election. He also plans to republish his three volumes of memoirs. “They are bloody good. All three of them,” he says without modesty.

If they’re anywhere as good as Harry’s last stand, they most certainly will be. This book is from the guts. It is simply written, perceptive and moving. This is tabloid writing in the very best sense – and of the highest order.

Working on the book was a painful experience for Harry. “Writing it brought back bitter memories of almost 30 years of unhappiness,” he says. It was an unhappiness compounded immeasurably by the break-up of his parents’ marriage and the death from tuberculosis of a beloved sister at the age of 10.

And yet the book is bang up to date. It draws parallels between the state of Britain then and now. It speaks of the bitter irony of desperate people in the twenty first century relying on food banks in one of the richest countries in the world.

The book reminds us of a Children’s Society estimate that more than three million British youngsters go to bed hungry every night. It points out that most politicians live in a parallel universe; that a third of MPs went to fee-charging private schools, compared with seven per cent of the rest of us.

And it compares the assertion of politicians that they will not ‘appease dictators’ with their readiness to pacify the leaders of big business. The readiness to fawn over the people with money has led to a world in which out of a population of eight billion, fewer than a hundred men and women control half its wealth. In Britain, five families control 20 per cent of the wealth, according to Oxfam.

He writes, “This country once had a vision and a road map to lead each of us to future prosperity. That map has been replaced with a kind of neo-liberalism that is frog-marching us back to a time that was best left to history.

“It imperils our survival as a nation, and having been there once before
I fear that midnight is about to chime again for our country and Western society.”

If you know someone who claims to have no interest in politics then make sure they read this book!

Harry’s last stand by Harry Leslie Smith, Icon Books, all formats.
Reproduced from uniteWORKS, Winter 2014/15 edition.

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In Place of Fear - book cover

* In honour of the NHS we have pleasure in republishing A FREE NHS, which is chapter 5 of Nye Bevan's In Place of Fear book.  CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE PDF