Smith was an outspoken human rights activist with a Twitter following of more than 250,000. He had come to prominence in recent years with his advocacy of the National Health Service and the need to protect refugees. He was also a strong critic of Britain’s austerity program.
He had toured refugee camps to highlight their plight. He said he had witnessed scenes like that in his youth and couldn’t bear to see them repeated in his old age without speaking out.
He argued that greed and globalism were stripping away the advances wrought by his generation, which had survived the Great Depression and World War II and built a more just society.
Smith was the son of a coal miner who described the 1920s in Britain as a “barbarous” and “bleak” time in part because of the lack of health care. His sister died of tuberculosis at 3. He started work at 7 doing manual labor at a brewery.
His speech at the 2014 Labour Party conference about the difficulties of life before the NHS moved many to tears.
Former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband tweeted that Smith was “one of a kind who never wavered in his fight for equality and justice. We should all carry his passion, optimism and spirit forward.”