British World War II veteran on today

This video from Britain says about itself:

Harry Leslie Smith – I don’t want my past to become Britain’s future

5 July 2016

When Harry Leslie Smith left to serve in World War II “no health care was the norm”. When he returned after extended service, the Labour Party had created a health service ‘free at the point of use’ – the NHS.

Harry warns us, “I don’t want my past to become Britain’s future”. His history is our history.

On its 68th birthday and on a day when our junior doctors voted against a contract being imposed upon them which they say is not safe for patients and not sustainable – we must resolve to protect the National Health Service.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Do not despair, have hope and determination

Tuesday 26th September 2017

In part one of a two part Q&A, HARRY LESLIE SMITH talks to the Star about the deeply troubling times we find ourselves in

THE title of your book has a rather ominous warning for today’s Labour Party members. Why did you decide to write this now?

One of the main motivating factors that I had for writing Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future over the last year, is time. I am 94 and my dance on this earth is coming to a close. I am one of the last few people that can remember Britain in the 1920s and early 1930s when life for working-class citizens was beyond atrocious, it was shameful.

It essential for me that I spend whatever moments I have left on this earth warning people that the horrors my generation endured are only a heartbeat away for our youngest generation because of austerity, neoliberalism and a growing indifference to the suffering of those less fortunate than us.

What are the main lessons you would like today’s Labour members to gain from your life?

The main lessons I think Labour members can get from my life is not to despair, to have hope, determination and to target one’s anger at those entitled few who believe that the good life should only be for the 1 per cent.

Labour members should never forget that there can be no compromise when it comes to a public NHS, and affordable education or affordable housing. We can make this nation a green and promised land once again, if we return to the grit and determination of my generation who wouldn’t settle for second best when it comes to workers’ rights or their right to a Britain for and by the people.

Moreover, I hope Labour members will learn that my life only had purpose in it because I was able to love and be loved. Without love we cannot build a proper society, without compassion, empathy and a sense of joy, life isn’t worth living.

Do you think that younger generations will be able to avoid the mistakes of those that have gone before?

This is such a watershed moment in our country’s destiny as well as the world’s that I am afraid the younger generation won’t be afforded the luxury of making mistakes like mine was. Unfortunately, the younger generations who will come to power will be like a bomb disposal unit where one false move, one wrong wire cut, means annihilation.

Those that come to power or come to influence power over the next five years has to get it right on the first crack or else I fear there will be civil unrest or world war. Britain has to get it right, Russia has to get it right, Europe, America and Asia all have to get their acts together or else we going to propelled into something far worse than first or second world war.

It’s often said that as people get older they become more conservative. Do you think that’s true and, if so, how can people avoid becoming closed-minded as they get older?

There is some truth to that and I think people becoming more conservative as they get older comes from fear and uncertainty. I think the greatest problem with old age is you start to feel your mortality and that can cause panic in some people which makes them become more conservative in their thinking. Also if you become disconnect from society from age that leaves you infirm, you can feel resentment that life has somehow cheated you, which can also make you become more conservative.

However, my experience is that those who are the most conservative in old age were more than likely pretty miserable bastards in their youth. From the simple fact that I was born into a desperately poor family, who were destroyed by economic forces beyond their control, guaranteed me that as long as I live I will fight for the underdog.

I think what would prevent older people from being closed-minded is not to cut yourself off from the world as you age. I have always been curious about people and the world which helped me through the death of my wife and middle son. Moreover, I think the most important thing you must ask yourself at any age is what I will leave behind when I am no more.

State healthcare has gone through a lot of changes in your lifetime. What are your thoughts on the current state of the NHS?

The NHS is in crisis today because of chronic underfunding, the demoralisation of staff through wage caps as well as the gradual erosion of access to healthcare through the creep of privatisation within our public healthcare system.

I am under no illusions that if the Tories remain in power for another two years, the NHS won’t be fit for purpose.

We cannot forget that to a Tory MP the NHS is just a concept because their life as well as their family and peer group is well protected by wealth and power. They know they will never need to rely upon the NHS because they have the luxury to be able to afford private health insurance. It always baffles me how the voter can trust a Tory politician to do the right thing for the country because their lifestyle precludes them from understanding the horror that the daily grind has inflicted on the average citizen.

The NHS can only recover and become the great institution it once was when Labour returns to government under a banner of social democracy where the burden of society is also the responsibility of wealthy corporations, not just ordinary workers.

Harry Leslie Smith is a survivor of the Great Depression, an RAF veteran, activist for the welfare state, author of Harry’s Last Stand, Love Among the Ruins, 1923 and The Empress of Australia. His latest book Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future, published by Little Brown, is available now for £14.99 in hardback.

6 thoughts on “British World War II veteran on today

  1. Wednesday 27th September 2017

    HARRY LESLIE SMITH talks about his hopes for the future in the second part of our interview

    WHAT are your thoughts on the last election?

    I have to be honest, when Theresa May called the snap election; I feared the worst for Labour. However, once I saw Jeremy Corbyn storm the nation I felt that maybe his message of a better Britain for all not just the few could change hearts and minds. And you know what, it did.

    The penny dropped with many voters in the spring of 2017 as it hadn’t in 2015 because I think the average voter could see their lives will materially change with the reins of Labour held by someone like Jeremy Corbyn.

    But what the last election should teach us is that Labour must be vigilant and never give an inch to the Tories because come the next election we will take government — just as long as the party fights for a Britain where everyone gets a fair wage and pays fair taxes.

    What direction would you like to see the Labour Party go in now?

    You know, it amazes me when I watch a political pundit on TV or read essays in the newspaper by generally very well off columnists who assert that Jeremy Corbyn is “hard left” because he demands in Parliament that people must receive fair wages, affordable housing and education, because in my day that was just common sense.

    In fact after the 1945 general election, even Tory governments didn’t tinker with those pillars of civilisation until Thatcher came along.

    Over my long life, I’ve observed that over all, the majority of people just want the right to a life that is free from war, want and sickness. They also want the right to build themselves a comfortable and prosperous life that can include the right to leisure and self-improvement.

    It’s why I believe the social and economic road that Corbyn and many of his MPs want to build under a Labour government is the right road to construct.

    It’s why I think Labour always has to make the case for the many and not the few.

    I grow tired of some who think Labour must appease neoliberalism, the one per cent, and therefore can’t demand radical changes to an economic system that has become so corrupted by oligarchs, hedge funds and undertaxed corporations that it led the world to massive financial meltdown in 2008 which helped shaped the crisis of Trump, Brexit, as well as the refugee crisis.

    Labour must return to its roots and be like the party I first voted for in 1945 when it was a political party that wanted to bring equality and prosperity to all who lived in our nation.

    Do you have any thoughts on the media’s role in today’s society? What about the Morning Star?

    My personal opinion is that the media in Britain has always been dysfunctional and unfortunately with the right-wing press, a means to strong-arm people into doing things that are not in their best interest, like voting Tory when they’re working class.

    It’s become far worse now because of the advent of social media, which through the distortion of facts or outright lies has deprived rational debate of oxygen.

    When I was younger, I found there were more checks and balances to the rabid right-wing press because trade unionism was stronger and also people had a greater degree of common sense — most knew that the wealthy of this nation weren’t concerned for our wellbeing.

    Now we live in a culture that worships celebrity and consumerism. Unfortunately much of the media plays into that fantasy world and it reinforces this perception that wealth is wisdom.

    It’s why the Morning Star is so essential to this country because it is still a beacon of reason, compassion and information that hasn’t been distorted by the political persuasions of the oligarchs who now control much of our press in Britain.

    Some of his critics say that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has created something of a generation gap, that his message doesn’t appeal to the older generation of voters. Do you think this true and if so, why?

    What can we do to change this? This is a good question and I think to answer it I must go back to the 1945 general election. Labour won that election because the generations were united by a manifesto that promised a future for all our citizens.

    I believe Jeremy Corbyn’s message — like Labour’s political message in 1945 — is about hope, prosperity and a decent future for everyone in this country. This should appeal to all generations, because who doesn’t want to see their children and grandchildren have the same or better opportunities as them?

    The problem is that for many who say that Corbyn’s message doesn’t appeal to the older generation is that it’s not true but they are trying to make it true for their own political gains.

    The only way to change it is the way Labour regained the confidence of the voters during the 1930s after the debacle of Ramsay MacDonald’s initial handling of the Great Depression, by going on the stump and explaining that Labour today has a vision for all generations.

    It is what I plan to do for the next year or until another election. I will tour the country and explain to small or large groups why Jeremy Corbyn can be the next PM and why I will support his vision of Britain that is for the many and not the few.

    With threats like global climate change, nuclear war, neoliberalism and such, are you optimistic about the future?

    We only have one chance now to get things right or else Britain and the world is in a whole heap of trouble.

    What gives me optimism is watching the fightback against Trump, the surge in support for Labour at home and the growing politicisation or our young.

    I believe that the younger generations will be, like mine, a tide that will float all boats.

    I am worried for the future of this planet but having survived so far up to the age of 94, I know that where there is life there is hope.

    Harry Leslie Smith is a survivor of the Great Depression, an RAF veteran, activist for the welfare state, author of Harry’s Last Stand, Love Among the Ruins, 1923 and the Empress of Australia. His latest book Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future, published by Little Brown, is available now for £14.99 in hardback.


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