The Tories are a wounded beast and this election set back can be mortal to them, if we apply the right the pressure.
Harry Leslie Smith is a 94 year old survivor of the 1930s Great Depression, a 2nd World War RAF veteran and a tireless activist for social justice. He is the author of 5 books.
Once, long ago, I traveled across the North Atlantic in a steam ship in the cold month of November. It was a frightful crossing of dark over cast skies and giant swells that pitched the vessel up and down as if it were a tiny skiff. Walls of harsh green water crashed against the windows in dining hall while below in my windowless cramped 3rd class cabin I felt like unsecured cargo on a tramp steamer in the throes of a hurricane as I kept being tossed from my bunk.
To me in 2017, Britain feels very much like that vessel steaming with uncertainty against hostile seas. Everything in our country because of austerity and now Brexit has come unstuck. We are a nation unhappily and unfairly divided by wealth and privilege. The cost of living has crept up and personal debt soars. No one knows where this all going to end. It’s truly a most disturbing time to be alive if you are not part of the 1%.
These past few weeks have been tempest of politics and a time of profound grief because Britain has been assailed by murderous terrorist attacks as well as the preventable tragedy that occurred at Grenfell Tower Block, in London
However, in the hazy light of the recent heat wave I saw the promise of hope return to our shores after an absence of 7 long years. This feeling of optimism for our future shimmered before me like an oasis for tired travelers on a caravan through the desolate sands of Arabia. You see something unexpected occurred on June 8th. That was the day when Britain went to the polls and the political pundits were proved wrong.
It was the day when many of us said enough is enough. It was the day when voter turnout increased and progressive forces rallied behind the banner of a Labour party transformed by Jeremy Corbyn into the party I remembered from 1945. It was the day that austerity and hard Brexit were put on notice by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.
This is no small matter because for once in the longest of time, the young were energised by politics, because they understood that their future is in jeopardy under a Tory government. It’s why they came out to vote in this election in numbers not seen for generations. The young came out like a phalanx for progress on June 8th and because they voted Labour the parties vote share increased to numbers not seen since Clem Attlee’s historical victory in 1945. Because the young and the disenfranchised came out to vote Theresa May’s government for the few was hobbled by the many. Now she holds on to power by her finger nails and must go cap in hand to the DUP if she wants to cling to power.
Imagine that before desolution the Tories had a 12 seat majority, a 20 point lead and every newspaper was ready to crown Theresa May the 21st century’s Margaret Thatcher. Eight weeks later, she is as weak and pathetic as Anthony Eden after the 1956 Suez Crisis. It just shows you what a fragile and inept politician Theresa May really is once you remove the varnish applied to her by the likes of the Daily Mail. She’s as strong and stable as a meringue. She’s like a paper Mache dragon that can intimate a child until a gust of wind blows it over.
However, we must not make the mistake of thinking we have won the war because that will take many more battles and much more commitment for you and me. Like Churchill said after routing Rommel in the desert in 1942. This is not the end but it is the end of the beginning.
But the price we have paid for austerity has been staggering and for some they have paid for it with their lives.
In due course we will find out the ultimate cause of the Grenfell Tower blaze, My fear is like Hillsborough it will come decades later when justice can’t be properly served. What we do know so far is almost a hundred people are dead because an ideologically driven austerity has caused the state to raise the draw bridge and lock the doors to civilisation for many of us.
Seeing Grenfell Tower forlorn and hollow of life, angers me beyond control. I’ve seen buildings like charred husks before, where fire has consumed innocent life with ravenous cruelty. But that was during time of war when the Blitz on London set many sections of our capital ablaze by enemy bombs falling from enemy aircraft.
The conflagration at Grenfell tower’s wasn’t caused by the clash of armies but because there seems to be a war being fought against the right for ordinary people to live a safe and healthy life. That’s just not right, it’s not the Britain we deserve, it’s not the Britain my generation wanted to build in 1945 when it lay in ruins from war and centuries of oppression by the entitled.
But change has come, I think had these tragedy occurred when the Tories had a working majority in parliament, it would have been even more difficult for survivors to seek remedy to their plight.
However, now the Tories are a wounded beast, bloodied, confused and frightened. This election set back can be mortal to them, if we apply the right the pressure.
Now that the Tories are weakened by a hung parliament and all their pettiness, ineptness hangs out like the shirt front of a wastrel, you have the power to hold their feet to the fire through peaceful protest, by joining a progressive political party, by engaging on social media and by making sure you’re ready to be counted in the next general election. Believe you me, Theresa May’s government won’t last until Christmas. But if you want to see the end of austerity and the brakes put on a hard Brexit, you must be sure to elect a Labour government with a majority, next time around. It’s the only thing that will truly give you a proper future and not the one I endured as a boy.
It’s age I suppose but I am always rummaging through my past remembering bits and pieces of it and assembling it like a jigsaw puzzle of despair. Recently, I remember my dad amusing me with the dickey bird rhyme after he’d been let go from his job in the pits because he injured himself at work. “There goes Peter, there goes Paul.” The night before we’d done a midnight flit and ended up in some fleabag of a doss house. But there was dad trying to keep our humanity by amusing his children while my mum sank into despair knowing there wasn’t even bred and drippings for our tea.
Even when he was unemployed and in ragged thread bare trousers, I always looked up to my dad until he was consumed by the Great Depression and disappeared from my life at the age of 8.
He was a small man like me but he had a strong back and strong muscles from years working as a hewer deep below the earth’s surface. Dad had a finely trimmed mustache that hid his missing teeth. He loved to play the piano and when he had the time read history encyclopedias. I must have been five when he ruptured himself in the pits and was put on top to move scrap until he ruptured himself again. Dad was sent home and if weren’t for his union we’d have been done in within the first week of his unemployment. But when he worked the pay was so appalling low that it was basically slave labour to fell the purses of the mine owners and the City.
When people disparage the unemployed and those on benefits they always talk about the dignity of Labour but they ignore the fact that there is no dignity in starvation wages because it’s just exploitation. Since the age of 7 I’ve been earning my crust of bread and I was lucky my health held out. But if I’d become sick or injured before the Welfare State, I’d have been like my dad, a vagrant of sorts. The only thing that makes life fair is the welfare state and that the rich should pay their measure of taxes. Those that argue against these principles are arguing against civilisation.