Nick Dearden introduces our tributes to Jeremy Hardy
I first really got to know Jeremy Hardy in Derry, north of Ireland, 15 years ago. It must have been almost exactly this time of year, because we were there to commemorate the Bloody Sunday march. An international night had been organised by Eamonn McCann and other socialists. Jeremy was to talk about Palestine, an issue he’d recently become deeply involved in, and I was to talk about Colombia, where right-wing paramilitaries were engaged in an assassination campaign against trade unionists.
My abiding memory is of our hosts insisting on us eating dinner before proceeding to the talk. Jeremy was looking at his watch throughout the meal, gently suggesting we needed to get going. It was already 7.15 and the event was supposed to start at 7. Nonsense, the host repeatedly told him, no one in Derry would expect us not to eat first.
We eventually arrived at the venue nearly an hour late. Some of the audience had already left, and those that remained had faces like thunder. The chair introduced us by giving apologies on our behalf, but that the ‘guests’ had really wanted to eat before coming to speak. The audience glared at us, and I looked at the ground. Although they could probably have done without my description of murder and torture in Colombia, they patiently listened. But Jeremy, as always, brought them alive as he spoke about Palestine, with passion of course, but also humour and self-deprecation. As always, he put his ego to one side, and showed the Palestinian struggle through the eyes of someone who most decidedly felt he was not a hero, but someone deeply affected by – and scared of – the situation he found himself in when confronting (and failing to confront) the Israeli army.
As we walked around Derry, Jeremy explained to me the Irish struggle that he’d supported for many years. I knew that struggle from political tracts. Jeremy knew it from people, from stories, from real experiences. As always he brought it to life for me with a conversational humour that seemed to stream from his mind without effort, quick and warm, but shot through with a persistently British sense of irony, as if it was never going to stop raining (it didn’t).
Since then Jeremy agreed to take part in several campaign events I organised. He spent huge amounts of time doing unpaid work for the cause, and he was the key attraction wherever he spoke. In October 2015, shortly after Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, both Hardy and John McDonnell spoke at an anti-TTIP event in Conway Hall.
Jeremy’s speech had the whole audience in stitches, as he described his apprehension at Corbyn’s announcement of the leadership challenge. “I felt a bit like you feel when your child announces they want to be in the school play. Of course you want to wish them well, but at the back of your mind you think, ‘on no’, because you realise it’s going to end up embarrassing for you and disappointing for them.” McDonnell couldn’t get enough, and urged the chair to give him more time. After he’d finished he stood up and said “every time I appear on a panel with Jeremy Hardy, I get a bit less electable.”
Jeremy Hardy had firm political values and principles, but never made you feel lectured or hectored. He was always ready to listen. In times when warmth and humour were sadly lacking from our political culture, Jeremy reminded me why I was on the left. In the shitshow we’re currently living through, his wit and his warmth will be so sorely missed by me and many many others.
Thanks for everything Jeremy.
From the final days of New Labour to the beginning of Brexit negotiations, Jeremy Hardy was a columnist for Red Pepper. The comedian and activist passed away on February 1st 2019. Caustic and compassionate in equal measure, the ‘Jeremy Hardy Thinks…’ column ran for six and a half years, covering everything from militarism and migration to the Royal Family and everyday sexism. K Biswas picks his favourite moments.
On New Labour – May 2010
In 1997, the month of May began bathed in brilliant sunshine. Church bells rang and Tory voters were dragged from their basement hiding places and paraded through the streets wearing signs reading ‘Collaborateur’. The last remaining Conservatives in Wales were prodded over the border at the point of a bayonet, and their cottages burnt.
Mark Steel, Francis Wheen and I went straight to the nearest pub and became joyously drunk. None of us was even remotely enthusiastic about Tony Blair, but we weren’t thinking about the future at all. We all felt secure in the fact that we had voted Labour with no illusions. But as Linda Smith was to observe a couple of years later, ‘I had no expectations of Tony Blair at all, and even I’m disappointed.’
On splits in the coalition government – December 2012
Tories delight in a spat with Brussels, because upsetting foreigners is second only to killing them in stimulating the pleasure centres of the Conservative Party. Liberals, on the other hand, love Europe. They adore anything continental: the cheeses, the voting systems, anything. Their party’s whole raison d’etre is the vast superiority of French campsites. I refer, obviously, to sleek, modern Liberals, not the old-fashioned radicals who were content with a good cheddar, a thermos and a wet walking holiday, reading a biography of Joe Grimond.
And to be fair to Liberals, all of them have always loved democracy. The left is ambivalent about it. We pay lip-service to it but can’t help suspecting that people might be too stupid to realise the high regard we have for them. And Conservatives, despite belligerently enthusing about western democratic values, have never truly been convinced by this country’s experiment with universal suffrage. Their greatest terror is the mob. That’s probably why they want the troops home from Afghanistan. They don’t want to be left without a squadron of dragoons when the millworkers get restless.
On Militarism – August 2010
I know there are serving soldiers who say that they shouldn’t be in Afghanistan, to which my reply is: ‘No, you shouldn’t. And you shouldn’t be in the army. And if you hadn’t joined, you wouldn’t be there. And Britain wouldn’t be there because, if people like you didn’t keep joining up, there’d be no one to send. Governments aren’t going to go themselves, so they’d have to send our Olympic relay team or the scouts.’
But with the classic tendency to infantilise the working class, some on the left say: ‘A lot of these lads join up because of a lack of opportunities, but they don’t necessarily expect to get sent to war.’ I’m sorry, but they joined the wrong thing, then, didn’t they? If you join the Royal Horticultural Society or the Tooting Bec Lido Swimming Club and get sent to war, you can justifiably say that it was the last thing you expected. But the army’s got a pretty poor track record on these things.
On People’s Concerns – July 2013
I am not in receipt of any benefits, apart from roads of varying quality and occasional firework displays. And policing, I suppose. And a fire service, should I need it. And museums, parks and art galleries. And free healthcare. And the advantages that have flowed from a free education to tertiary level. And some other bits and bobs. But that’s it.
So, by rights, I should be livid that asylum seekers are given a free house on arrival, that prisons are like holiday camps and that unemployed single mothers are paid more than the prime minister. Except I know that these things are not true.
I don’t wish to suggest that people are stupid, merely ignorant. As a rule, only people who are in receipt of benefits, or who administer them, know how much they are. No one who’s never been inside a prison has any grasp of the realities of incarceration. Only a refugee knows what it’s like to be one.
But most people are not cold-blooded and are quite shocked when they learn how low benefits actually are. If they were to spend one night in a cell, they would cry throughout it. When asked what sentences they think are appropriate for various offenders, they show themselves to be more liberal than judges. And if they were to meet an asylum seeker and hear their story, they would probably want to open their own wallets to help them out.
On Sexism – October 2014
‘Sexism’ is an expression like ‘racial tension’, meaning something that can cut both ways. And even though it is usually reported with women being the recipients, it doesn’t come near to describing what we’re dealing with. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be concerned about women in the cabinet. And I’m certainly not saying we should ignore women being whistled at and think about Boko Haram. I’m saying women being whistled at and Boko Haram are on the same spectrum of contempt and inhumanity.
Perhaps some men think women like men to shout ‘Hello darling!’ from a van. Doubtless some think being enslaved by a militia is every woman’s dream. Wolf whistles are the mild end of something that gets very ugly very quickly. We’re talking about hatred.
On Solidarity – December 2015
We on the left are at our best when we engage on a human level, when solidarity is real. The story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, dramatised in the film Pride and told no less wonderfully in the documentary Still the Enemy Within, shows that it’s possible to have a clear and serious political analysis and a big heart.
Contrary to the stereotype of leftists as cold-blooded theoreticians, our activists are apt to join church people in filling vans full of stuff to drive to mining communities, or to Egypt’s border with Gaza, or to Calais. And some have gone to Greek islands to join locals in offering their bare hands and their humanity.
And when we hold onto our humanity in arguing our case, we win people over. Not many people would stand by and watch someone drown if they had the chance to rescue them, but that is what Europe’s governments are doing. It takes a loss or a suppression of one’s humanity to do that, or to make poor people poorer or to be prepared to fire a nuclear missile.
When our arguments speak to what’s best in people, we convince them.
Some quotable quotes on selected topics.
Childhood: I grew up in the Aldershot area and there was a time in the early 1970s when we were thinking of calling in the IRA as a peace-keeping force.
Nature versus nurture: Little about the human personality can be identified as innate because it’s impossible to have a personality immune from human contact – unless that’s what causes estate agents.
Capitalism: In a market-driven society, it is a tribute to human decency that anyone behaves with any morals at all.
The Left: Ever since Karl Marx did all that work in the British Museum library, the left has felt an obligation to predict the future. We’re better at it than the right or centre, but often ignore a crucial variable: the unfailing weirdness of human beings.
National identity: A person’s national identity is a topic like their sex life or religion – significant but disturbing when that person is prone to over-sharing.
John Prescott: He was clearly the man tasked with shafting the workers in their own accent.
Liberal Democrats in the coalition government: A stab-vest for the Tories.
Tony Blair: [On a] mission to bomb his way to sainthood.
Prince Charles: He might be no George Monbiot but, as the idiot spawn of incestuous German robber barons, he could be worse.
David Miliband: A man I wouldn’t like to cross – mainly because I’d fear being bundled onto a plane by the CIA and flown to Bagram air base.
IDS: Irritable Duncan Syndrome, the workhouses and pensions secretary…
Ken Clarke: An occasionally-undiplomatic uncle, bumbling around in a likeable daze like Paddington Bear after a car accident.
The Falklands: In a sense, Argentina won the war. They got rid of their crazy, right-wing ruler; and we were stuck with ours for several more years.
Britain’s Future: What if we become a republic or we’re sold to America as Walt Disney’s Cockney World of Adventures?
Building nukes: If you just say they keep people in work, I will retort that cracking down on paedophiles poses a risk to workers in the confectionery industry… We could make millionaires of all those employed on Trident and still have money left over to turn Faslane into affordable housing.
The New Royals: Gone are the Germanic strangulated vowels and clipped consonants, to be replaced with the public-school cockney favoured by Tony Blair and Peaches Geldof.
Funerals: I’d rather my funeral were moderated by a vicar than have my corpse exploited by the humanists. However irrational religion might be, I prefer the diffident mumbling of a cleric to the outpourings of people so unrelentingly pleased with themselves. I’m serious about that.
We, The People: We, for our part, believe unflinchingly in our right to stroll safely through well-paved streets, with as many state-educated children as we choose to produce, on our way to a free world music festival in our freshly-landscaped municipal park.
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