Harry Leslie Smith (born 25 February 1923) is a British writer and political commentator. He grew up in poverty in Yorkshire, and served in the RAF during the Second World War, later moving to Canada. After retiring, Smith began writing his memoirs and about the social history of Great Britain, during his youth and in the 21st century. He has written five books about Britain during the Great Depression, the Second World War, and postwar austerity. He writes for The Guardian newspaper, New Statesman, The Daily Mirror, International Business Times and the Morning Star, and has made a number of public appearances in the UK (including the 2014 Labour Party conference and during the 2015 general election and the 2016 EU Referendum) and Canada (in his 2015 Stand up For Progress National Tour).
Harry Leslie Smith was born on 25 February 1923, in Barnsley, Yorkshire, the son of an unemployed coal miner. His elder sister Marion died of tuberculosis, due to the family being unable to afford medical treatment. After his father became unemployed, the family moved to Bradford, then to Halifax. Smith joined the RAF in 1941 and spent several years in Hamburg, Germany as part of the allied occupation force. Whilst serving there, he met his future wife, Friede. The couple returned to Britain after he was demobilised and he worked in various jobs in Yorkshire.
In the 1950s, they emigrated to Canada, living in Scarborough in Toronto and later in Belleville, Ontario, and had three sons. Smith made a career in the oriental carpet trade, specialising in designing and importing new designs from the Middle East, the former Soviet Bloc and Afghanistan. Friede died in 1999, and he started to write following this. Since his retirement from business, Smith has been a writer of memoirs and social history. He now divides his time between Ontario and Yorkshire.
Smith writes regularly for The Guardian commenting on politics and 20th-century history. He attracted attention in November 2013, writing that he would not wear the Remembrance poppy in future years because he felt the symbol was being used to promote support for present-day conflicts. He addressed the September 2014 Labour Party conference, speaking in support of the National Health Service, and has spoken on BBC Radio and at the Bristol Politics Festival.
Smith runs a Twitter feed with over 90,000 followers commenting on a wide range of current affairs. He has said that it was the global financial crisis of 2008 that inspired him to take his "last stand", writing and campaigning on income inequality, public services and what he sees as the diminishing prospects for young people. "I want to use my time and whatever influence I have from the book to get the young in Britain to vote the only way we can: to save our social democratic institutions. I want us to make our last stand at the ballot box."
In July 2015, Smith endorsed Jeremy Corbyn's campaign in the Labour Party leadership election. He tweeted: "I back #JeremyCorbyn b/c I want my grandchildren's generation to have a fighting chance for a decent and meaningful life free of austerity".
In October 2015, Smith appeared on the BBC Three documentary We Want Our Country Back, where he sharply criticised the far-right anti-immigration political movement "Britain First".
In 2016, he also endorsed Corbyn's campaign in the Labour Party leadership election. In March 2016, he said of Corbyn: "He is a very honest-minded man. He has the desire to change things in Britain. Corbyn will change the world for the better. There is no one else" He added: "He'll learn he has to put some more weight behind it. I am behind him and will work with him."
In September 2017, Harry Leslie Smith will publish his fifth book Don't Let My Past Be Your Future. It will be published by Little Brown.
His first three books, Love among the ruins (2009) (was Hamburg 1947: A Place for the Heart to Kip), 1923: A Memoir (2010)—these two works were also published together as The Barley Hole Chronicles—and The Empress of Australia: A Post-War Memoir (2013), were self-published autobiographical works. His fourth book, Harry's Last Stand (2014), was published by Icon Books. Reviewers described this last book as "heart-breaking" and "a furious poem dedicated to the preservation of the welfare state", and wrote that "the book ... meanders between biography and rage against the system. The biography parts are the most compelling..." and "Smith is a fine writer and a logical thinker, even though Harry's Last Stand makes its points early and often and is a bit of a rant at times". It has sold over 18,000 copies.