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Order at Amazon (affiliate link) I’m not sure when I first came across Harry Leslie Smith. It might have been the poppy article. Or I might have seen something about him in a news report, I’m not sure. I remembered the poppy article though, and when I saw his book on NetGalley, I knew I wanted to read it. The subtitle isn’t the catchiest slogan ever, but it caught my interest: How The World My Generation Built Is Falling Down, And What We Can Do To Save It.
It’s the saving bit that fascinates me. I don’t believe that we are doomed. I can’t believe that we are doomed – I have little children. I have to believe that there is a way to make a better future for them, and their peers.
Harry came from worse. He describes the time before the Second World War. Growing up in grinding poverty. Watching a disabled sister die. Becoming the income earner for the household at the age of 7. He describes a part of history that is glossed over, but is within living memory. And he recognises the changes that happened after the war, the creation of the welfare state, the differences that were made by democracy and a collective will to change things for the better.
His book is a wake up call to those of us watching as our society becomes harder and more cruel. Changes for the better were made before. They can be rescued, or made again.
I won’t go through everything Harry suggests – I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but that’s not a bad thing. What we should be doing though is having this discussion, all of us. Not letting the politicians spill rhetoric across the headlines, and the media drive their own agenda that sets family against family for fear that someone might be getting something they aren’t entitled to. In reality there are lots of people getting things for nothing, and they aren’t at the bottom of society.
My thoughts on potential solutions have been documented across this blog several times before, and I’m sure I’ll write on basic income again, and probably some other political issues from time to time. The suggestions in this book differ, but I think they should inform the debate. And I’m wondering if it would be possible to send a copy to every MP in the country. And I’d like every single one of them to look Harry in the eye as they explain why we can’t afford housing. Why we should let the NHS fall apart. I’d like them to face down a man who was here before those changes, who survived without the safety net, but only just. I’d like them to try to justify to him why our prosperous land can’t afford the welfare state that we put together after the Second World War, that made such a real and lasting difference to so many people.
I don’t think they’d find that a comfortable conversation. But I think it’s one we should all get to watch, and I’d far rather see that on television than leaders debates with Nigel Farage.
If you are interested in recent history from the perspective of someone who lived through it, if you’d like an informed view on where we’re going wrong today in politics, I highly recommend Harry’s last stand to you. It’s out in June, and it’s worth the wait.
If you’d like to share what you’ve been reading, I’d love to hear. And if you want to grab the badge, pop over to the #Read52 page and grab it.