|Don't Let My Past Be Your Future: A Call to Arms by Harry Leslie Smith|
|Category: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Megan Kenny|
|Summary: Don't Let My Past Be Your Future is a chilling reflection on how far we have retreated back into the darkness of history, a battle cry against injustice and a call to arms for those of us who believe in a just, fair world.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: September 2017|
Don't Let My Past Be Your Future: A Call to Arms is part autobiography and part rallying call for society to tackle the systemic, endemic and debilitating inequality faced by the people of the United Kingdom, particularly in the North. Through reflecting on his own experiences during his childhood, Harry Leslie Smith has painted a frank and uncompromising picture of the grim, appallingly miserable childhood he had to endure due to the poverty faced by his family contrasted with the, shamefully still, grim and miserable lives many people endure today in a country ravaged by cuts, austerity and political turmoil.
Moving seamlessly between his own life and the current state of society, Smith highlights how the greedy capitalist neoliberal beast has dogged and devoured the most vulnerable members of society, using his own history as a cautionary tale. From fleeing landlords during moonlight flits to scavenging from bins, the examples cited by Smith are a shameful indictment of the lives people lived before the advent of the Welfare state. From backbreaking labour at the age of seven to hearing people dying screaming in agony because they couldn't afford to see a doctor, the picture painted is one of abject horror and desolation.
The strength of Smith's work is in his deftly woven narrative which features examples from his past, contrasted with the experiences of those living in poverty today, effectively highlighting how far we have sunk back into the cesspit of greed and injustice. It is also a testament to Smith that he manages to uplift as well as horrify the reader, particularly when discussing his own route out of the wretchedness of his situation. For Smith, this involved educating himself, becoming politically engaged and championing the Labour party. It is obvious that Smith is devoted to the cause and ideals of the Labour party, however this should not imply that he is blind to the issues within the party, nor that he is unwilling to critique its members. What emerges is a rounded, honest and critical evaluation of the state of our nation from a man who has lived through social, political and cultural chaos and can identify the dangerous decline back to a time when your socioeconomic background defined your future. His message is clear- if you believe that all people are born equal and deserve to live a life free from poverty, to have the chance to be healthy, happy and fulfilled then you must strive to change the course we are currently on. We must all become socially and politically active and be willing to challenge injustice and the rhetoric spilled by politicians more concerned with power than with people.
As a proud Barnsley lass who has seen the impact of inequality and poverty throughout my life on the area in which I was born, this book had a deep personal resonance for me. Smith's pride and passion about the people of Barnsley is evident throughout, as is his anger at the injustice faced by people in this town and others like it in Northern England. It is a pleasure to see Barnsley, and indeed the North generally, discussed in terms other than demonising the people who inhabit these towns, gutted by years of indifference, cruelty and systematic prejudice. However, the palpable sadness of Smith's childhood, from his father's spiritual collapse and his mother's emotional bankruptcy to his sister's feeling of inevitable hopelessness due to her misfortune at being born a girl and thus left unable to escape the cycle of poverty cut me deeply not only because it echoes the lives of many people today but because then, as now, it was preventable. That is the message I'd like people to take away from Harry Leslie Smith's poignant, powerful and poetic work- we can make our lives and the lives of those around us better, we can challenge the notion that capitalism and neoliberalism are the only way to survive and we can create a society which is tolerant, just and fair. It will take more than just hope but with determination, the willingness to engage politically, and the courage to see the world with open eyes and challenge the status quo we can heed the warnings laid bare in Don't Let My Past Be Your Future. Together, we can change the world.
For those who want to know more about the history of the Labour party you could try Speak for Britain!: A New History of the Labour Party by Martin Pugh.
You can read more book reviews or buy Don't Let My Past Be Your Future: A Call to Arms by Harry Leslie Smith at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Don't Let My Past Be Your Future: A Call to Arms by Harry Leslie Smith at Amazon.com.
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