Harry Smith: The past holds both a warning and a hope for the future

I am an ordinary man who lived through extraordinary times

I am one of the last remaining voices from an era when Britain was savage and brutal to all those who did not have wealth.

Now when I shave in the morning and look at the skin on my face broken and cracked with age and my hands thin and frail, I wonder to myself what became of that young man who survived the Great Depression, and what happened to that Britain that delivered, from the ashes of war, peace and economic security to its citizens. The young man and Britain as a compassionate nation are no more.

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Neo-liberalism has turned the welfare state into Bolton Abbey. It has become a beautiful pile of rubble. It was exposed to the indifference of successive governments, including Labour, for too long. Moreover, this generation has allowed the one per cent to steal its birthright and that can’t continue for much longer without Britain returning to my past.

And if we in the 21st century are forced to return to my past because the Tories have successfully murdered the welfare state, it will be more brutal and bloodier for you than it was for me so many years ago.

This time there will be no mercy because the state will be able to monitor and control all facets of your life; our entire lives can be traced, from our use of mobiles and emails to comments on social media to purchases via credit card and the use of loyalty cards. Anonymity has gone, and the state has greater weaponry for social control than ever before.

It will be impossible to resist and mobilise like we did in the 1930s and 1940s. You must begin to act now because tomorrow it could be too late.

Everything that we have today in terms of social benefits originates from those six years when Labour was in government after the war. Without the Atlee government, Britain would have been a dark and fearful place during the second half of the twentieth century. And yet many of our citizens are ignorant of history and made arrogant by the fake news of the right wing, which disparages the great accomplishments we made as a nation, when we cleared the slums, gave free healthcare to all, built affordable homes and made higher education accessible to working-class kids.

We shouldn’t be where we are today as a people and as a society. A million people should not need to use food banks to keep their bellies full. Politics has failed the people and now too many are turning to right-wing populists the way the poor once flocked to snake-oil salesmen to cure their ailments. All our political parties are at fault and should be ashamed, but some are guiltier than others.

Ukip is a fraud. It can no more offer political salvation to the disenfranchised masses than a television evangelist can fast track you to heaven with a £100 donation to his dodgy ministry. And it is time the media and other political parties stopped paying lip service to their 21st century variant of Mosley’s fascism.

As for the Tories, their concept of aspirational politics is a cruel deceit. Toryism is no more than an elaborate pyramid scheme where they convince everyone to steal from the lowest to keep their place in the hierarchy.

As for Labour, my heart will always be with them, as it was even during the time of open civil war that occurred for the first two years of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership or when the Labour government pursued a war of dubious merit in Iraq. I hope that the party will heal its divisions and grow more united because of its recent electoral gains during the snap general election.

But more importantly, I hope the party has learned it can’t help the working classes, the vulnerable or the middle classes if the right wing and left wing of the party are at each other’s throats in a blood feud.

Perhaps since reducing Theresa May’s working majority to a hung parliament in the election of June 2017, Labour politicians have learned to put their daggers down against each other and fight the true enemy of progress, the Tories.

At any rate, it seems that after a long journey into a spiritual wilderness, Labour has been revitalised by its electoral success. Moreover, the success of Labour’s 2017 election manifesto proves that pragmatic socialism is as attractive to this generation as it was to mine in 1945.

Should Labour ever get a chance to unfurl this platform in a government for and by the people, Britain will have truly returned to the optimistic days of 1945 after Clem Attlee became Prime Minister.

Barnsley-born Harry Smith, 94, is an author and political activist. This is an extract from his book Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future (published by Little, Brown) priced £14.99.