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Aneurin Bevan

Aneurin Bevan

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
In office
4 May 1959 – 6 July 1960
LeaderHugh Gaitskell
Preceded byJim Griffiths
Succeeded byGeorge Brown
Shadow Foreign Secretary
In office
22 July 1956 – 4 May 1959
LeaderHugh Gaitskell
Preceded byAlf Robens
Succeeded byDenis Healey
Minister of Labour and National Service
In office
17 January 1951 – 23 April 1951
MonarchGeorge VI
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byGeorge Isaacs
Succeeded byAlf Robens
Minister of Health
In office
3 August 1945 – 17 January 1951
MonarchGeorge VI
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byHenry Willink
Succeeded byHilary Marquand
Member of Parliament
for Ebbw Vale
In office
31 May 1929 – 6 July 1960
Preceded byEvan Davies
Succeeded byMichael Foot
Personal details
Born(1897-11-15)15 November 1897
Tredegar, Wales
Died6 July 1960(1960-07-06) (aged 62)
Chesham, England
Political partyLabour
Jennie Lee (m. 1934)
Alma materCentral Labour College

Aneurin Bevan (/əˈnrɪn ˈbɛvən/; Welsh: [aˈnəɨ.rɪn]; 15 November 1897 – 6 July 1960), often known as Nye Bevan, was a Welsh Labour Party politician who was the Minister for Health in the UK from 1945 to 1951. The son of a coal miner, Bevan was a lifelong champion of social justice, the rights of working people and democratic socialism.[1] He left school at 13 and worked as a miner during his teens where he soon became involved in local union politics, being named head of his Miner's Lodge at 19 years of age. He joined the Labour Party and was elected as the Member of Parliament (MP), for Ebbw Vale in South Wales, a position he held for 31 years. He was one of the chief spokesmen for the Labour Party's left wing, and of left-wing British thought generally.

He rose to national prominence during the Second World War due to his criticism of the Tory prime ministers of the time. When Labour came into power following the 1945 United Kingdom general election, Bevan was the surprise choice of Clement Attlee to become the Minister of Health, becoming the youngest member of the cabinet at 47. His most famous accomplishment came when he spearheaded the establishment of the National Health Service, which was to provide medical care free at point-of-need to all Britons, regardless of wealth. He was appointed as Minister of Labour and National Service in 1951 but resigned soon after when the Attlee government decided to transfer funds from the National Insurance Fund to pay for rearmament. He later returned to the party to serve as Shadow Foreign Secretary and Deputy Leader of the Party over the rest of his career before his death from cancer in 1960 at the age of 62. The left-wing group within the party became known as "Bevanite", though he did not control it.

Born into a working-class family in South Wales, Bevan eventually emerged as one of Wales' most revered politicians. In 2004, over forty four years after his death, he was voted first in a list of 100 Welsh Heroes, having been credited for his contribution to the founding of the welfare state.

Early life

Aneurin Bevan was born on 15 November 1897 at 32 Charles Street in Tredegar, Monmouthshire, a working-class mining town, where an estimated 90 per cent of the town's inhabitants relied on the local mines for employment.[2] The town was situated in the South Wales Valleys and was on the northern edge of the South Wales coalfield. He was the son of coal miner David Bevan and Phoebe (née Prothero), a seamstress. His father was born in Tredegar but his family had originally hailed from Carmarthenshire and he followed his own father into the mines, starting work at 5:30am each day and returning home late in the evening. Bevan's father was adept at construction and added several modern features when the family moved to 7 Charles Street, installing the first gas stove in the street, an inside toilet and hot water.[2]

Both Bevan's parents were Nonconformists; his father was a Baptist and his mother a Methodist. David Bevan had been a supporter of the Liberal Party in his youth, but was converted to socialism by the writings of Robert Blatchford in The Clarion and joined the Independent Labour Party. Bevan senior was also a member of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion and wrote his own poems, one of which won an inter-chapel eisteddfod. His mother was also from Tredegar but had English roots; her grandfather hailed from Hereford. Bevan's maternal grandfather John was a blacksmith who moved to Tredegar from Hay-on-Wye to work in the Bedwellty mines.[2][3]

The couple had ten children together, six boys and four girls, although four died in infancy and one at the age of eight.[2] Aneurin Bevan did poorly at school, attending Sirhowy Elementary School. He developed a severe stammer as a child and, according to his younger sister Myfanwy, became "a lonely chap" due to the need to shy away from the attention it brought him. At the age of thirteen, in his last month's of schooling, he worked as a butcher's boy at local butchers Davis' where he received two and sixpence a week.[4] He worked at the butchers for several months before leaving school and instead working in the local Ty-Trist Colliery. Here, he earnt around ten shillings per week with most of his money going to his parents to help support the family. He began attending fortnightly meetings of the local Plebs' League where he studied, among other things, Marxism.[5] Bevan also joined the Tredegar branch of the South Wales Miners' Federation and became a trade union activist: he was head of his local Miners' Lodge at only nineteen years of age. He was called up for service during the First World War and was briefly arrested when his sister Blodwen burnt his conscription papers and he failed to report for duty. Bevan appeared in court but was cleared when he produced confirmation that he suffered from nystagmus.[6]

Bevan became a well-known local orator and was seen by his employers, the Tredegar Iron Company, as a troublemaker. The manager of the colliery found an excuse to get him sacked. But, with the support of the Miners' Federation, the case was judged as one of victimisation and the company was forced to re-employ him.[7][8] He and his brother Billy did eventually leave Ty-Tryst and instead worked at the Bedwellty pit but were forced to move on again after a disagreement with the site's deputy manager over Bevan reporting information to the miner's inspector. The pair moved on to work at Whitworth Colliery but fell foul of management again when Bevan refused to use cheaper second-hand timber as he deemed it unsafe. He was later fired for refusing to unload and successfully challenged the motion but was moved to Pochin, generally considered a punishment due to the poor site conditions.[9]

1919 saw the foundation of the Tredegar Labour Party and Bevan was selected as one of four Labour delegates to contest the West Ward in the Tredegar Urban District election. Although he was defeated, he gained attention from his peers and he won a scholarship to the Central Labour College in London, sponsored by the South Wales Miners' Federation. There, he spent two years studying economics, politics and history. He read Marxism at the college and was a brief follower of Noah Ablett,[10] developing his left-wing political outlook. Reciting long passages by William Morris with the help of an elocution tutor, Bevan gradually began to overcome the stammer that he had had since he was a child.[6] Bevan remained at the College until 1921, attending at a time when a number of his contemporaries from South Wales, including Jim Griffiths, were also students at the College. However, some historians have questioned how influential the College was on his political development. He was not, apparently, one of the most diligent students, and found it difficult to follow an organised routine, including getting up early for breakfast.[11]

The Tredegar Query Club by friends including Aneurin Bevan and Walter Conway. Conway is in the middle of the picture. Aneurin is second from right on the back row and his brother Billy is second right on front row.[12]

Bevan was one of the founding members of the "Query Club" with his brother Billy and Walter Conway. Conway was a local miner who had been elected to the Bedwellty Board of Guardians and offered Bevan advice on overcoming his stammer, stating "if you can't say it, you don't know it". Bevan followed his advice, often practising his speeches to his friends in order to perfect his speech and wording, and remarked that Conway's words were the "best advice I ever had".[9] The Query club started in 1920 or 1921 and they met in Tredegar. They would collect money each week for any member who needed it. The club intended to break the hold that the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company had on the town by becoming members of pivotal groups in the community.[12]

Upon returning home in 1921, he found that the Tredegar Iron & Coal Company refused to re-employ him; Bevan even ended up in a fist-fight with a group of miners who refused to strike over his rejection.[13] Apart from a six-week spell as a labourer for Tredegar Council, he did not find work until 1924 and his employer, the Bedwellty Colliery, closed down only ten months later. Bevan then had to endure another year of unemployment, the family surviving on his sister's wages, when his unemployment benefit was stopped due to her income, and his father's sick pay. In February 1925, his father died of pneumoconiosis, an illness caused by the inhalation of coal dust, in his arms.[14][15] In 1926, he found work again, this time as a paid union official. His wage of £5 a week was paid by the members of the local Miners' Lodge. His new job arrived in time for him to head the local miners against the colliery companies in what would become the General Strike. When the strike started on 3 May 1926, Bevan soon emerged as one of the leaders of the South Wales miners.[8] The miners remained on strike for six months. Bevan was largely responsible for the distribution of strike pay in Tredegar and the formation of the Council of Action, an organisation that helped to raise money and provided food for the miners.[16]


In 1928, Bevan won a seat on Monmouthshire County Council in the Tredegar Central Division. He lost the seat in 1931 but regained it in 1932 before deciding against seeking re-election in 1934.[17] With his success in 1928, he was picked as the Labour Party candidate for Ebbw Vale (displacing the sitting MP Evan Davies), and easily held the seat at the 1929 General Election,[8] gaining more than twice the votes of Liberal candidate William Griffiths. In keeping with his background, Bevan's described his initial thoughts on the House of Commons as a shrine to "the most conservative of all religions – ancestor worship."[10] In Parliament, he soon became noticed as a harsh critic of those he felt opposed the working man.[18] His targets included the Conservative Winston Churchill and the Liberal David Lloyd George, as well as Ramsay MacDonald and Margaret Bondfield from his own Labour party (he targeted the latter for her unwillingness to increase unemployment benefits). He had solid support from his constituency, being one of the few Labour MPs to be unopposed in the 1931 General Election and this support grew through the 1930s and the period of the Great Depression in the United Kingdom.[19]

Soon after he entered parliament Bevan was briefly attracted to Oswald Mosley's arguments,[20] becoming one of the 17 signatories of the Mosley Memorandum in the context of the MacDonald government's repeated economic crises, including the doubling of unemployment levels.[21] In January 1931, he authored a letter to the government on behalf of the Mosley group that raised concerns over the government's "failure to deal with unemployment".[22] However, in the words of his biographer John Campbell, "he breached with Mosley as soon as Mosley breached with the Labour Party". This is symptomatic of his lifelong commitment to the Labour Party, which was a result of his firm belief that only a party supported by the British labour movement could have a realistic chance of attaining political power for the working class.

He married fellow Socialist MP Jennie Lee in 1934 after the pair had met in London.[23] They were early supporters of the socialists in the Spanish Civil War and Bevan visited the country in 1938.[24] In 1936 he joined the board of the new socialist newspaper Tribune. His agitations for a united socialist front of all parties of the left (including the Communist Party of Great Britain) led to his brief expulsion from the Labour Party in March to November 1939 (along with Stafford Cripps, C. P. Trevelyan and three others). Bevan and Cripps had previously been threatened with disciplinary action by the party for sharing a stage with a Communist speaker and all party members were threatened with expulsion if they were associated with the Popular Front.[19][25][26] Bevan and another expelled MP, George Strauss, appealed against the decision.[27] Bevan was readmitted to the party on 20 December 1939,[28] (Strauss three months later)[29] after agreeing "to refrain from conducting or taking part in campaigns in opposition to the declared policy of the Party".[30]

He strongly criticised the British government's rearmament plans in the face of the rise of Hitler's Germany, saying to the Labour conference in autumn 1937:

If the immediate international situation is used as an excuse to get us to drop our opposition to the rearmament programme of the Government, the next phase must be that we must desist from any industrial or political action that may disturb national unity in the face of Fascist aggression. Along that road is endless retreat, and at the end of it a voluntary totalitarian State with ourselves erecting the barbed wire around. You cannot collaborate, you cannot accept the logic of collaboration on a first class issue like rearmament, and at the same time evade the implications of collaboration all along the line when the occasion demands it.[31]

However the Labour conference voted to drop its opposition to rearmament. When Winston Churchill said that the Labour Party should refrain from giving Hitler the impression that Britain was divided, Bevan rejected this as "sinister":

The fear of Hitler is to be used to frighten the workers of Britain into silence. In short Hitler is to rule Britain by proxy. If we accept the contention that the common enemy is Hitler and not the British capitalist class, then certainly Churchill is right. But it means abandonment of the class struggle and the subservience of the British workers to their own employers.[31]

By March 1938, Bevan was writing in Tribune that Churchill's warnings about German intentions for Czechoslovakia were "a diapason of majestic harmony" compared to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's "thin, listless trickle".[32] Bevan now called unsuccessfully for a Popular Front against fascism under the leadership of the Labour Party, including even anti-fascist Tories.[32] When the government introduced voluntary national service in December 1938, Bevan argued that Labour should demand the nationalisation of the armaments industry, support Republican Spain and sign an Anglo-Soviet pact in return for its support. When Labour supported the government's scheme with no such conditions, Bevan denounced Labour for imploring the people on recruiting platforms to put themselves under the leadership of their opponents.[33] When conscription was introduced six months later, Bevan joined the rest of the Labour Party in opposing it, calling it "the complete abandonment of any hope of a successful struggle against the weight of wealth in Great Britain".[34] The government had no arguments to persuade young men to fight "except merely in another squalid attempt to defend themselves against the redistribution of international swag".[34]

In August 1939 came the Nazi–Soviet Pact. In Parliament, Bevan argued that this was the logical outcome of the government's foreign policy. However at this time of national crisis he voted for the first time with the government. He wanted the war to be not just a fight against fascism but a war for socialism.[35] He was a strong critic of the policies of Chamberlain, arguing that his old rival Winston Churchill should be given power. During the war he was one of the main leaders of the left in the Commons, opposing the wartime Coalition government. Bevan opposed the heavy censorship imposed on radio and newspapers and wartime Defence Regulation 18B, which gave the Home Secretary the powers to intern citizens without trial. Bevan called for the nationalisation of the coal industry and advocated the opening of a Second Front in Western Europe to help the Soviet Union in its fight with Germany. In one of his most noted speeches made against Churchill, he railed that the prime minister "wins debate after debate and loses battle after battle".[10] Churchill responded by calling Bevan "a squalid nuisance".[36] Churchill was a frequent target of Bevan's, who already held a dislike of him following his intervention in the Tonypandy riots and the 1926 United Kingdom general strike which he considered heavy handed. Bevan believed that the key to the war was the involvement of Russia and considered Churchill was too focused on the intervention of the United States.[37] Bevan also feared that allowing Churchill to continue unopposed and unchallenged in Parliament during the war would leave him almost unbeatable for the Labour Party in future elections.[38] Historian Max Hastings described Bevan's role in Parliament during the war as "his figures were accurate but his scorn was at odds with the spirit of the moment – full of gratitude, as was the prime minister."[39] His opposition made him largely unpopular at the time, his wife later described how the couple would frequently receive parcels filled with excrement at their home.[40]

Bevan was critical of the leadership of the British Army which he felt was class bound and inflexible. After Ritchie's retreat across Cyrenaica early in 1942 and his disastrous defeat by Rommel at Gazala, Bevan made one of his most memorable speeches in the Commons in support of a motion of censure against the Churchill government. In this he said, "The Prime Minister must realise that in this country there is a taunt on everyone's lips that if Rommel had been in the British Army he would still have been a sergeant ... There is a man in the British Army who flung 150,000 men across the Ebro in Spain, Michael Dunbar. He is at present a sergeant ... He was Chief of Staff in Spain, he won the Battle of the Ebro, and he is a sergeant." In fact, Dunbar had been recommended for a commission, but rejected it himself to remain with his unit.[41]

Bevan was subject to further disciplinary action in 1944 when he deliberately voted against Labour's stance on new defence regulations.[42] He also voiced criticism of trade union leaders that drew complaints from both the Miners' Federation and the Trades Union Congress.[43] An administrative committee voted 71 to 60 in favour of retaining Bevan as an MP,[44] although it was announced that party discipline was to be strengthened in future.[45]

He believed that the Second World War would give Britain the opportunity to create "a new society". He often quoted an 1855 passage from Karl Marx: "The redeeming feature of war is that it puts a nation to the test. As exposure to the atmosphere reduces all mummies to instant dissolution, so war passes supreme judgment upon social systems that have outlived their vitality." At the beginning of the 1945 general election campaign Bevan told his audience that his goal was to eliminate any opposition to the Labour programme: "We have been the dreamers, we have been the sufferers, now we are the builders. We enter this campaign at this general election, not merely to get rid of the Tory majority. We want the complete political extinction of the Tory Party, and twenty-five years of Labour Government."[46]


The 1945 general election resulted in a landslide victory for the Labour Party, giving it a large enough majority to allow the implementation of the party's manifesto commitments and to introduce a programme of far-reaching social reforms that were collectively dubbed the "Welfare State".[47] These reforms were achieved in the face of great financial difficulty following the war. The new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, appointed Bevan as Minister of Health, with a remit that also covered Housing. Thus, the responsibility for instituting a new and comprehensive National Health Service, as well as tackling the country's severe post-war housing shortage, was given to Bevan, the youngest member of Attlee's Cabinet in his first ministerial position at the age of 47.[48] Although described in The Times as "an outstanding back-bench critic" and "one of (Labour's) most brilliant members in debate", his appointment was regarded as a relative surprise given his previous disciplinary issues.[49] Bevan had clashed frequently with Attlee during his time as an MP, believing that the Labour leader failed to apply enough pressure on the Tory government during the war. He had also seen disputes with some of Attlee's closest allies, Ernest Bevin and Herbert Morrison who were appointed Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House respectively. However, Attlee commented that Bevan was "starting with me with a clean sheet" following his appointment.[50] Bevan tested this new found solidarity early on by arriving to a royal banquet at St James's Palace wearing a navy lounge suit.[50] He earnt a rebuke from Attlee but Bevan contended that his Welsh mining constituency did not send him to Parliament to "dress up" and declined to wear formal attire at further Buckingham Palace functions.[51]

Bevan talking to a patient at Park Hospital, Manchester, the day the NHS came into being.

The free National Health Service was paid for directly through public money. Bevan had been inspired by the Tredegar Medical Aid Society in his hometown where residents would pay a subscription that would fund access for all of the town's inhabitants to have free access to medical services such as nursing or dental care. The system proved so popular that 20,000 people were supporting the organisation during the 1930s. In 1947, Bevan stated "All I am doing is extending to the entire population of Britain the benefits we had in Tredegar for a generation or more. We are going to Tredegar-ise you."[52] Government income was increased for the welfare state expenditure by a large increase in marginal tax rates for wealthy business owners in particular, as part of what the Labour government largely saw as the redistribution of the wealth created by the working-class from the owners of large-scale industry to the workers.[53] Having been a member of the Cottage Hospital Management Committee around 1928 and serving as chairman in 1929–30, Bevan had received an insight into the management of health services by local authorities that proved a bedrock of his work in founding the National Health Service.[40]

The collective principle asserts that ... no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.

— Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear, p. 100

On the "appointed day", 5 July 1948, Bevan's National Health Service Act 1946 came into force, when Bevan attended a ceremony at the Park Hospital, Trafford (now Trafford General) at which he symbolically received the keys to the hospital.[54] This was achieved having overcome political opposition from both the Conservative Party and from within his own party. Confrontation with the British Medical Association (BMA), led by Charles Hill, who had published a letter in the British Medical Journal describing Bevan as "a complete and uncontrolled dictator" and whose members had dubbed him the "Tito of Tonypandy",[40][55] had also threatened to derail the National Health Service scheme before it had even begun, as medical practitioners continued to withhold their support just months before the launch of the service. After eighteen months of ongoing dispute between the Ministry of Health and the BMA, Bevan finally managed to win over the support of the vast majority of the medical profession by offering a couple of minor concessions, including allowing consultants to keep their own private practices, but without compromising the fundamental principles of his National Health Service proposals. Bevan later gave the famous quote that, to broker the deal, he had "stuffed their mouths with gold".[55] Some 2,688 voluntary and municipal hospitals in England and Wales were nationalised and came under Bevan's supervisory control as Health Minister.

Bevan said:

The National Health Service and the Welfare State have come to be used as interchangeable terms, and in the mouths of some people as terms of reproach. Why this is so it is not difficult to understand, if you view everything from the angle of a strictly individualistic competitive society. A free health service is pure Socialism and as such it is opposed to the hedonism of capitalist society.[56]

Conservative opposition of the National Health Service scheme feared that the sudden access to free health care would be overrun. In its early stages this proved true as the service went vastly over budget in its inaugural year and Attlee was forced to make a radio address to the nation in an attempt to limit the strain on the system. Bevan countered that the initial overspending was down to years of under investment in the British medical system prior to the Second World War and by the start of the 1950s, the early overspending had come to an end.[55]

Statue of Bevan in Cardiff by Robert Thomas

When Bevan was made a minister in 1945, he envisioned a sector of public housing that would provide people with the choice to live in owner occupation or the private sector:

We should try to introduce in our modern villages and towns what was always the lovely feature of English and Welsh villages, where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer all lived in the same street. I believe that is essential for the full life of citizen ... to see the living tapestry of a mixed community.[57]

Substantial bombing damage, with over 700,000 homes needing repair in London alone,[58] and the continued existence of pre-war slums in many parts of the country made the task of housing reform particularly challenging for Bevan. Indeed, these factors, exacerbated by post-war restrictions on the availability of building materials and skilled labour, collectively served to limit Bevan's achievements in this area. Bevan was also limited due to his desire for new homes to be bigger and better quality than the ones they were being built to replace based on 1943 report by the Dudley Committee and a shortage of skilled workers.[59][60][61] 1946 saw the completion of 55,600 new homes; this rose to 139,600 in 1947 and 227,600 in 1948. While this was not an insignificant achievement, Bevan's rate of house-building was seen as less of an achievement than that of his Conservative (indirect) successor, Harold Macmillan, who was able to complete some 300,000 a year as Minister for Housing in the 1950s. Although these numbers were reached by lowering the quality standards put forward by Bevan originally, with council houses featuring gardens being largely dropped in favour of tower blocks and flats.[59][62] Macmillan was also able to concentrate full-time on Housing, instead of being obliged, like Bevan, to combine his housing portfolio with that for Health (which for Bevan took the higher priority; he once stated tongue-in-cheek that he devoted "five minutes a week to housing").[63]

At a party rally in 1948, during a speech, Bevan stated: "That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation."[64] The comment inspired the creation of the Vermin Club by angry Conservatives; they attacked Bevan for years for the metaphor. Labour Party deputy leader Herbert Morrison complained that Bevan's attack had backfired, for his words "did much more to make the Tories work and vote ... than Conservative Central Office could have done."[65] It was later claimed that his words had cost Labour more than two million votes.[37]

In 1951, with the retirement of Ernest Bevin, Bevan was a leading candidate for Foreign Secretary. Prime Minister Attlee rejected Bevan in favour of Herbert Morrison because he distrusted his personality. According to John Campbell, Attlee thought that:

Bevan's impetuous temperament, undiplomatic tone and reputation as an extreme left-winger combined to make the Foreign Office seem the last place a prudent Prime Minister would think of putting him at any time. His "vermin" speech still resonated; imagination shuddered at a repetition of that on the international stage.[66]

Bevan was instead appointed Minister of Labour in place of George Isaacs in January 1951, a move seen by some as a sideways or backwards step although a potential rearmament program was expected to make make the post of future importance.[67][68] During his tenure he helped to secure a deal for railwaymen which provided them with a significant pay increase.[69] However, three months after his appointment, Hugh Gaitskell introduced a proposal of prescription charges for dental care and spectacles—created to save a potential £25m to meet the financial demands imposed by the Korean War. An infuriated Bevan stated that he would never be a member of a government that imposed charges on the National Health Service.[70] David Marquand has stated that the savings were introduced by Gaitskell simply to "impose his will" in Bevan who he saw as a political rival.[10] Bevan resigned from his position two weeks later, stating both the proposed changes and the increase in "military expenditure" that necessitated the need for such proposals.[71] Two other ministers, John Freeman and Harold Wilson resigned at the same time.[72] Bevan received unanimous support for his actions from his local Labour constituency leaders.[73] Later the same year, the Labour Party were defeated at the general election. After Bevan left the Health ministry in 1951 he could never regain his level of success and feuded with fellow Labour leaders, using his strong political base as a weapon. Kenneth O. Morgan says, "Bevan alone kept the flag of left-wing socialism aloft throughout — which gave him a matchless authority amongst the constituency parties and in party conference."[74]


Aneurin Bevan speaking in Corwen in 1952

Bevan's last decade saw his political position weaken year by year as he failed to find a winning issue that would make use of his skills.[75] In 1952 Bevan published In Place of Fear,[76] "the most widely read socialist book" of the period, according to a highly critical right-wing Labour MP Anthony Crosland.[77] According to The Times Literary Supplement the book was a "dithyramb with meanderings into the many side-tracks of Mr Bevan's private and public experience."[78] In the opening page of the book, Bevan begins: "A young miner in a South Wales colliery, my concern was with the one practical question: Where does power lie in this particular state of Great Britain, and how can it be attained by the workers?"[79]

In March 1952, a poorly prepared Bevan came off the worse in an evening Commons debate on health with Conservative backbencher Iain Macleod: Macleod's performance led Churchill to appoint him Minister of Health some six weeks after his debate with Bevan.[80]

Out of office, Bevan soon exacerbated the split within the Labour Party between the right and the left. For the next five years, Bevan was the leader of the left wing of the Labour Party, who became known as Bevanites. They criticised high defence expenditure (especially for nuclear weapons), called for better relations with the Soviet Union, and opposed the party leader, Attlee, on most issues. According to Richard Crossman Bevan hated "the in-fighting which you have to do in politics.... He wasn't cut out to be a leader, he was cut out to be a prophet."[81] In April 1954, Bevan resigned from the Labour parliamentary committee having being rebuked by Attlee after accusing the Labour leader of surrendering to American pressure over a proposed multi-national defence organisation in Asia and the Pacific.[82] He later said that he had resigned his position to "call attention to the fact that their movement was in grave crisis" and stated his belief that he would be have been party chairman by the following year if he had remained.[83] In July of the same year, Bevan announced his intention to stand for election as the Treasurer of the Labour Party against Hugh Gaitskell. His nomination received a severe blow on the same day it was announced when two unions that traditionally sided with the left, the National Union of Mineworkers and the Amalgamated Engineering Union, pledged their support for his opponent.[84] Although unsuccessful in his bid, he did celebrate 25 years as the MP for Ebbw Vale.[83]

In March 1955, when Britain was preparing for tests of its first hydrogen bomb, Bevan led a revolt of 57 Labour MPs and abstained on a key vote.[85] The Parliamentary Labour Party voted 141 to 113 to withdraw the whip from him, but it was restored within a month due to his popularity.[86] After the 1955 general election, Attlee retired as Labour leader. Bevan contested the leadership against both Morrison and Labour right-winger Gaitskell, but it was Gaitskell who emerged victorious with more than half of the ballots.[87] Bevan's remark that "I know the right kind of political Leader for the Labour Party is a kind of desiccated calculating machine" was assumed to refer to Gaitskell, although Bevan denied it (commenting upon Gaitskell's record as Chancellor of the Exchequer as having "proved" this). Bevan also failed in a bid to become deputy leader, losing out to Jim Griffiths.[88] He instead stood again for the role of party treasurer and was duly elected, beating George Brown.[89]

Despite his criticism of the new party leader, Gaitskell was prepared to make Bevan Shadow Colonial Secretary,[90] and then Shadow Foreign Secretary in 1956. Bevan was as critical of the Egyptian President Colonel Nasser's seizure of the Suez Canal on 26 July 1956 as he was of the subsequent Anglo-French military response. He compared Nasser with Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.[91] He was a vocal critic of the Conservative government's actions in the Suez Crisis, noticeably delivering high-profile speeches in Trafalgar Square on 4 November 1956 at a protest rally, and criticising the government's actions and arguments in Commons on 5 December 1956. At the Trafalgar rally, Bevan accused the government of a "policy of bankruptcy and despair".[92] Bevan stated at the Trafalgar rally:

We are stronger than Egypt but there are other countries stronger than us. Are we prepared to accept for ourselves the logic we are applying to Egypt? If nations more powerful than ourselves accept the absence of principle, the anarchistic attitude of Eden and launch bombs on London, what answer have we got, what complaint have we got? If we are going to appeal to force, if force is to be the arbiter to which we appeal, it would at least make common sense to try to make sure beforehand that we have got it, even if you accept that abysmal logic, that decadent point of view.

We are in fact in the position today of having appealed to force in the case of a small nation, where if it is appealed to against us it will result in the destruction of Great Britain, not only as a nation, but as an island containing living men and women. Therefore I say to Anthony, I say to the British government, there is no count at all upon which they can be defended.

They have besmirched the name of Britain. They have made us ashamed of the things of which formerly we were proud. They have offended against every principle of decency and there is only one way in which they can even begin to restore their tarnished reputation and that is to get out! Get out! Get out![92]

Bevan dismayed many of his supporters when he suddenly reversed his opposition to nuclear weapons.[93] Speaking at the 1957 Labour Party conference, he decried unilateral nuclear disarmament, saying "It would send a British Foreign Secretary naked into the conference-chamber". This statement is often misconstrued: Bevan argued that unilateralism would result in Britain's loss of allies, and one interpretation of his metaphor is that nakedness would come from the lack of allies, not the lack of weapons.[94] According to the journalist Paul Routledge, Donald Bruce, a former MP and Parliamentary Private Secretary and adviser to Bevan, had told him that Bevan's shift on the disarmament issue was the result of discussions with the Soviet government where they advised him to push for British retention of nuclear weapons so they could possibly be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the United States.[95]

In 1957, Bevan, Richard Crossman and the Labour Party's General Secretary Morgan Phillips sued The Spectator magazine for libel, after one of its writers described them as drinking heavily during an Italian Socialist Party conference. The article wrote that the three men:

...puzzled the Italians by their capacity to fill themselves like tanks with whisky and coffee... Although the Italians were never sure the British delegation were sober, they always attributed to them an immense political acumen.

The three won their case, and collected financial damages of £2,500 each:[96] later, however, Crossman acknowledged that they had perjured themselves to do so.[97]

In 1959, Bevan was elected unapposed as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party succeeding Griffiths.[98] His last speech in the House of Commons, in the Debate of 3 November 1959 on the Queen's Speech,[99] referred to the difficulties of persuading the electorate to support a policy which would make them less well-off in the short term but more prosperous in the long term.


Bevan had said "I would rather be kept alive in the efficient if cold altruism of a large hospital than expire in a gush of warm sympathy in a small one."[100] He checked into the Royal Free Hospital at the end of 1959 to undergo surgery for an ulcer, but malignant stomach cancer was discovered instead.[101] After a lengthy period in hospital, he returned home and announced he would not be returning to politics in the near future to recuperate and planned an extended vacation.[102] Bevan died at 4.10pm on 6 July 1960, at the age of 62 at his home Asheridge Farm, Chesham, Buckinghamshire. His remains were cremated at Gwent Crematorium in Croesyceiliog in a private family ceremony.[103][104] An open-air service was held in his constituency of Ebbw Vale and was presided over by Donald Soper.[105]


Bevan's most significant legacy is the National Health Service. Bevan foresaw that it would always be the subject of public debate, warning that "This service must always be changing, growing and improving; it must always appear to be inadequate." But seven decades after it was founded, a 2013 opinion poll conducted on behalf of British Future found that the NHS was more popular than at its creation, and more popular than the Monarchy, the BBC and the military.[106]

In his 2014 biography of Bevan, Nick Thomas-Symonds described "an outpouring of national mourning" following his death. The Daily Herald stated that some MPs were seen to be crying in Parliament and described how there was "sorrow at every street corner" in the South Wales Valleys.[10] Harold Macmillan ended his Prime Minister's Questions session in Parliament two days after Bevan's death by paying tribute to the opposition MP, describing him as "a great personality and a great national figure." Macmillan noted that despite being a "controversial figure" during his career, Bevan's death had seen an outpouring of genuine "admiration and affection."[107] Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell also paid tribute to his former shadow cabinet member and ended his speech by labelling Bevan as "one of the great men of our day."[107]

A portrait of Bevan at the Senedd.

Bevan was particularly noted for his public speaking, being described by Robin Butler, Baron Butler of Brockwell, as "the greatest parliamentary speaker since Charles James Fox". Winston Churchill, the target of numerous diatribes from Bevan during his career, commented that Bevan was "one of the few members that I will sit still and listen too". Bevan's reputation as a hard-line socialist typically preceded him; Sir William Douglas who served as Bevan's deputy in the Ministry of Health had initially stated that he would "never work with a man like that" however, by the end of his tenure, he declared Bevan as "the best minister we have had".[37] Clement Attlee expressed his support that Bevan should have been the leader of the Labour Party during his lifetime but was held back by his demeanour, stating "he wants to be two things simultaneously, rebel and official leader, and you can't be both".[108] In 2015, Welsh actor Michael Sheen gave a speech in which he described Bevan as a "mythical creature . . . He had cast-iron integrity and a raging passion".[10]

The Aneurin Bevan Memorial Stones were erected at the beginning of the Sirhowy Valley Walk with three smaller stones, representing three towns of his constituency Ebbw Vale, Rhymney and Tredegar, surrounding a larger stone that represents Bevan.[109] In 2002, Bevan was voted as the 45th greatest Briton of all time by the BBC public opinion poll, 100 Greatest Britons.[110] The following year, Bevan was voted number one in the 100 Welsh Heroes poll, a response to find the public's favourite Welsh people of all time.[111][112] Numerous institutions also bear Bevan's name, including the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan, a hospital in his constituency Ebbw Vale.[113]


  • Why Not Trust The Tories?, 1944. Published under the pseudonym 'Celticus'. The title was intended ironically.
  • In Place of Fear, 1952. (ISBN 9781163810118)
  • Excerpts from Bevan's speeches are included in Greg Rosen's Old Labour to New, Methuen, 2005.

Bevan's key speeches in the legislative arena are to be found in:

  • Peter J. Laugharne (ed.), Aneurin Bevan – A Parliamentary Odyssey: Volume I, Speeches at Westminster 1929–1944, Manutius Press, 1996.
  • Peter J. Laugharne (ed.), Aneurin Bevan – A Parliamentary Odyssey: Volume II, Speeches at Westminster 1945–1960, Manutius Press, 2000.
  • Peter J. Laugharne (ed.), Aneurin Bevan – A Parliamentary Odyssey: Volumes I and II, Speeches at Westminster 1929–1960, Manutius Press, 2004.

See also


  1. ^ Duncan Hall. A2 Government and Politics: Ideologies and Ideologies in Action. Peel Island Productions. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-4477-3399-7 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b c d Foot, vol. 1, ch. 1.
  3. ^ Thomas-Symonds 2014, p. 16
  4. ^ Thomas-Symonds 2014, p. 19
  5. ^ Thomas-Symonds 2014, p. 24
  6. ^ a b Foot, vol. 1, ch. 2.
  7. ^ Foot, vol. 1, p. 28.
  8. ^ a b c "Enduring legacy of Aneurin Bevan". BBC News. 6 July 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  9. ^ a b Thomas-Symonds 2014, p. 25
  10. ^ a b c d e f Marquand, David (19 March 2015). "Aneurin Bevan, stormy petrel of the Labour left". The New Statesman. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  11. ^ Morgan 1981, pp. 196-7.
  12. ^ a b Aneurin Bevan: The greatest Welsh hero, Tredegar Development Trust, accessed May 2010
  13. ^ Thomas-Symonds 2014, p. 32
  14. ^ Foot, vol. 1, ch. 3.
  15. ^ "Dying father inspired Nye Bevan's NHS dream". WalesOnline. Media Wales. 23 September 2008. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  16. ^ "Aneurin Bevan (1897 – 1960)". BBC Wales. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  17. ^ Thomas-Symonds 2014, p. 52
  18. ^ Carradice, Phil (5 July 2010). "The death of Nye Bevan". BBC Wales. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  19. ^ a b Westacott, Fred. "Aneurin Bevan". Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  20. ^ Philpot, Robert (24 October 2017). "Britain's near-brush with Fascism: The politician who rooted for Hitler". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  21. ^ "History of James Ramsey MacDonald". Retrieved 25 April 2015.
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  24. ^ Smith, Dai. "Bevan, Aneurin [Nye] (1897–1960)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
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  32. ^ a b Campbell 1987, p. 80.
  33. ^ Campbell 1987, p. 82.
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  36. ^ Wrigley 2002, p. 60.
  37. ^ a b c Butler, Robin (11 April 1982). "Rab Beguiled by Bevan". The Observer. Retrieved 2 August 2019 – via
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  39. ^ Thomas-Symonds 2014, p. 95
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  41. ^ Baxell, Richard (2012). Unlikely Warriors: The British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle Against Facism. Aurum Press. ISBN 9781845136970.
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  48. ^ "About Nye". Retrieved 28 July 2019.
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  51. ^ Allan Michie, God Save the Queen, p. 159 (1952).
  52. ^ "NHS 70: Aneurin Bevan Day celebrations in Tredegar". BBC News. 1 July 2018. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  53. ^ Bevan argues that the percentage of tax from personal incomes rose from 9% in 1938 to 15% in 1949. But the lowest paid a tax rate of 1%, up from 0.2% in 1938, the middle income brackets paid 14% to 26%, up from 10% to 18% in 1938, the higher earners paid 42%, up from 29%, and the top earners 77%, up from 58% in 1938. In Place of Fear, p. 146. If you earned over £800,000 per annum in 2005 money terms (£10,000 in 1948), you paid 76.7% income tax.
  54. ^ "Trafford General: Where It All Began". BBC. 3 July 2008. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  55. ^ a b c McSmith, Andy (28 June 2008). "The Birth of the NHS". The Independent. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
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  57. ^ Matt Beech and Simon Lee (eds), Ten Years of New Labour, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
  58. ^ "Utmost Vigour for Housing". The Times. 25 August 1945. p. 2. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  59. ^ a b Holmes, Chris. "Housing, Equality and Choice" (PDF). Institute for Public Policy Research. Retrieved 28 July 2019. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  60. ^ "Welsh Politicians". The National Library of Wales. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  61. ^ "Housing Labour Short for "Some Months"". The Times. 10 December 1945. p. 2. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  62. ^ "Aneurin Bevan". The Times. 10 April 1993. p. 5 (S2). Retrieved 30 July 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  63. ^ Hanley, Lynsey (23 June 2017). "Housing Inequality Kills". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  64. ^ "Bevan's speech to the Manchester Labour rally". The Daily Telegraph, The Manchester Guardian, and The Times. 4 July 1948. Retrieved 20 August 2018 – via Socialist Health Association. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |newspaper= (help)
  65. ^ Thomas-Symonds 2014, p. 5
  66. ^ John Campbell, Nye Bevan: a biography (1987), p. 229
  67. ^ "Aneurin Bevan – Labour's Lost Leader". BBC News. 1 July 1998. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
  68. ^ "Mr. Bevan as Minister of Labour". The Times. 18 January 1951. p. 5. Retrieved 29 July 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  69. ^ Morgan, Kenneth (1985). Labour in Power, 1945–51. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192851505.
  70. ^ "Dissentian but no Resignations". The Times. 12 April 1951. p. 6. Retrieved 29 July 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  71. ^ "Mr. Bevan Resigns". The Times. 23 April 1951. p. 5. Retrieved 29 July 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  72. ^ Aneurin Bevan, Minister of Labour (23 April 1951). "Mr Aneurin Bevan (Statement)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Commons. col. 34–43.
  73. ^ "Ebbw Vale Backs Mr. Bevan". The Times. 30 April 1951. p. 4. Retrieved 29 July 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
  74. ^ Kenneth O. Morgan, Labour in Power (1985) p. 57
  75. ^ Krug 1961.
  76. ^ "In Place of Fear A Free Health Service 1952". Socialist Health Association. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  77. ^ Crosland, p. 52.
  78. ^ Kynaston 2009, p. 82.
  79. ^ Bevan, Aneurin (1952). In Place of Fear. Simon and Schuster. p. 1 – via Questia.
  80. ^ Paul Addison (2013). Churchill on the Home Front, 1900–1955. Faber & Faber. pp. 1–2.
  81. ^ Kynaston 2009, p. 81.
  82. ^ "Mr. Bevan for Back Bench". The Times. 15 April 1954. p. 8. Retrieved 29 July 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
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  84. ^ "Treasureship of the Labour Party". The Times. 8 July 1954. p. 8. Retrieved 29 July 2019 – via The Times Digital Archive.
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  97. ^ Roy Jenkins wrote of his former colleagues (in "Aneurin Bevan" in Portraits and Miniatures, 2011) that they "sailed to victory on the unfortunate combination of Lord Chief Justice Goddard's prejudice against the anti-hanging and generally libertarian Spectator of those days and the perjury of the plaintiffs, subsequently exposed in Crossman's endlessly revealing diaries." Geoffrey Wheatcroft wrote (in The Guardian, 18 March 2000, "Lies and Libel"): "Fifteen years later, Crossman boasted (in my presence) that they had indeed all been toping heavily, and that at least one of them had been blind drunk." Dominic Lawson wrote (in The Independent, "Chris Huhne's downfall is another example of the amazing risks a politician will take". 4 February 2013): "Crossman’s posthumously published diaries revealed that the story was accurate; and in 1978 Brian Inglis on What the Papers Say revealed that Crossman had told him a few days after the case that they had committed perjury". Mihir Bose (in "Britain's Libel Laws: Malice Aforethought", History Today, 5 May 2013) quotes Bevan's biographer, John Campbell, to the effect that the case had destroyed the career of the young journalist involved, Jenny Nicholson.
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  • Campbell, John (1987). Nye Bevan and the Mirage of British Socialism. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-78998-7.
  • Crosland, Anthony. The Future of Socialism.
  • Foot, Michael. Aneurin Bevan (2 vols 1962 and 1974); by a politician who greatly admired Bevan. However, Gaitskell's official biographer Philip M. Williams warns that it is seriously deficient and advises "no quotation should be considered correct unless verified"; Williams points to selective omissions, misrepresentation of Bevan's opponents, and poor coverage of Bevan's views that Foot does not share. Philip M. Williams, "Foot-Faults in the Gaitskell-Bevan Match," Political Studies (1979), 27#1 pp. 129–140.
  • Krug, Mark M. (1961). Aneurin Bevan: Cautious Rebel. New York: Yoseloff.
  • Kynaston, David (2008) [2007]. Austerity Britain, 1945–51. Tales of a New Jerusalem. 1. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-0-7475-9923-4.
  • — (2009). Family Britain 1951-57. Tales of a New Jerusalem. 2. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-0-7475-8385-1.
  • Morgan, Kenneth O. (1981). Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1889-1980. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-821760-9.
  • Thomas-Symonds, Nicklaus (2014). Nye: The Political Life of Aneurin Bevan. IB Tauris. ISBN 9781780762098.
  • Wrigley, Chris (2002). Winston Churchill: A Biographical Companion. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-87436-990-8.

Further reading

  • Lee, Jennie (1980). My Life with Nye. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 978-0-224-01785-5.
  • Campbell, John (1987). "Demythologising Nye Bevan". History Today. 37 (4): 13–18. ISSN 0018-2753.
  • Hennessy, Peter. Never Again: Britain 1945-1951 (Penguin UK, 2006).
  • Jenkins, Mark. Bevanism - Labour's High Tide. The Cold War and the Democratic Mass Movement (1979).
  • Morgan, Kenneth O. Labour People (Oxford University Press, 1987), pp 204–19
  • Morgan, Kenneth O. "Aneurin Bevan" in Kevin Jefferys, ed., Labour Forces: From Ernie Bevin to Gordon Brown (2002) pp 81–103.
  • Rosen, Greg (ed.), Dictionary of Labour Biography, (Politicos Publishing, 2001).
  • Smith, Dai. "Bevan, Aneurin (1897–1960)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, January 2011 [1].
  • Smith, Dai, ed. Aneurin Bevan & the World of South Wales (1993), 359pp; 12 essays by experts.

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
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Evan Davies
Member of Parliament
for Ebbw Vale

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