Jeremy Hardy’s best quality was simply this: he was incredibly rude. That might seem an odd personality trait to pick, more so to consider it a positive one. He was also obscenely kind and warm-hearted, behaving with incredible charity and love to both people he knew and strangers, never showing off and barely mentioning any of the big acts of charity and mercy he was involved in or responsible for.
He was just kind, matter-of-factly, in the way you might hold the door open for somebody, he would engineer a situation whereby a vulnerable family wouldn’t be homeless, and think nothing of it. Jeremy was absolutely hilarious and far too often responsible for me hyperventilating in a pub and crying my mascara off because my laughter had subsumed my entire body, his whip-smart mind clambering manically through the anecdote he was verbally rebuilding as I choked on my Guinness.
But Jeremy was rude because he was honest. Civility is a trait prized amongst the British commentariat, and drips with that stifling English stiff-upper-lip cultishness: Jeremy held no truck with it, rightly, and was brutally honest when he thought people were – in his words – “cunts”, such as Tony Blair. On Twitter, invariably, I’d carefully attempt to convey my disdain for people without being outright rude: Jeremy would steam in to reply being flat-out rude about them, and each time I felt intense envy at how brave and correct he was.
Jeremy was a staunch and principled socialist. He was very open and, again, honest about those views. He didn’t waver nor pay attention to the tedious people who sought to patronise socialists throughout the New Labour project. Nor did he crow about the fact that he was right all along. That didn’t matter – what mattered was the fact that we were finally in a position where socialism was close, and that meant not winning an argument, but that material conditions and the quality of life for people who needed it most were possibly about to change for the better.
“I’d always been a sort of leftist, liberal social democrat,” he told his friend Jack Dee on the BBC show Chain Reaction, “but the country in the 1980s was so right-wing that I thought I’d become part of some beleaguered minority of ultra-leftists.” It was fitting that he contributed to one of that beleaguered minority, Jeremy Corbyn, bringing the left back into the mainstream of British politics, and that the Labour leader paid tribute to his “lifelong friend” today.
Jeremy Hardy’s commitment went far beyond words and positions, though. When Róisín McAliskey was facing extradition after being accused of involvement in an IRA mortar attack on a British base, Jeremy contributed to her bail money fund, and wrote at length about her case in the press. He fought to clear Danny McNamee’s name, shouting at the judges during a trial. He travelled the West Bank with the Palestine solidarity movement during the height of the Second Intifada and was trapped by an Israeli siege in Bethlehem, becoming the protagonist of the documentary Jeremy Hardy versus the Israeli Army.
Jeremy stood out in the media amidst a cavalcade of identikit middle-class people with carefully pitched, very polite views. His background was similar – born in Hampshire in 1961, his upbringing was comfortable, and he went on to study politics and history at Southampton. But on Radio 4, he stood out on the News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. He was caustically funny and rude, and unashamedly socialist. He never hid or compromised on his beliefs but his humour and bluntness prevented him from being sidelined.
“Frankly, I do not see my job as keeping our rulers on their toes,” he once said, “I’d rather see them hanging by their feet. Perhaps I should have been more ironic, but then you might have thought I didn’t mean it, and I did.”
All deaths are tragic, but to lose Jeremy at only 57 is particularly cruel. Cancer is awful, and takes too many people far too young. In his memory, choose to do two things that he always did: be a little ruder, and punch up instead of down.