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Aneurin Bevan

Aneurin 'Nye' Bevan (November 15, 1897 - July 6, 1960), Welsh Labour politician, was born in Tredegar, Monmouthshire (Wales), the son of a miner. Both Bevan's parents were Nonconformists: his father was a Baptist and his mother a Methodist. One of ten children, Bevan was unsuccessful at school and his academic performance was so bad that his headmaster made him repeat a year. At the age of thirteen Aneurin left school and began working in the local Tytryst Colliery.

Youth

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. He joined the Independent Labour Party

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. Bevan became a well-known local orator and was seen by his employers, the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company, as a revolutionary. The manager of the colliery found an excuse to get him sacked. However, with the support of the Miners' Federation, the case was judged as one of victimisation and the company was forced to re-employ him.

In 1919 he won a scholarship for the Central Labour College in London, sponsored by the South Wales Miners' Federation. At the college he gained his live-long respect for Karl Marx. Reciting long passages by William Morris, Bevan gradually began to overcome the stammer that he had since he was a child.

He returned home in 1921 to find his job was lost, because the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company refused to employ him. He did not find alternative work until 1924 in the Bedwelty Colliery, and then after ten months, it was closed down. Bevan had to endure another year of unemployment and in February 1925, his much loved father died of pneumoconiosis.

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 General Strike started on 3rd May 1926, Bevan soon emerged as one of the leaders of the South Wales miners. 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.

Parliament

In 1928 he won a seat on Monmouthshire County Council. With that success he was picked as the Labour Party for Ebbw Vale, winning easily in the 1929 General Election. In Parliament he soon became noticed as a harsh critic of those he felt opposed the working man, including Winston Churchill and Lloyd George, as well as Ramsay MacDonald and Margaret Bondfield from his own party (for her unwillingness to increase unemployment benefits). He had solid support from his constituency, being one of the few Labour MPs to come through the 1931 elections.

He married fellow socialist MP, Jennie Lee in 1934. He was an early opponent of Fascism, arguing for British support for the socialists in Spain and visiting the country. In 1936 he joined the board of the new socialist newspaper the Tribune. His agitations for a united socialist front of all European socialist parties led to his brief expulsion from the Labour Party in March to November 1939 (along with Cripps and Trevelyan).However, they were readmitted in November 1939 after agreeing "to refrain from conducting or taking part in campaigns in opposition to the declared policy of the Party."

He was a strong critic of the policies of Neville Chamberlain, arguing that his old enemy Winston Churchill should be given power. During the war he was one of the leaders of the left in the Commons, opposing the wartime Coalition government. Bevan opposed the heavy censorship imposed on radio and newspapers and wartime Regulation 18B that gave the Home Secretary the powers to lock up citizens without trial. Bevan called for the nationalisation of the coal industry and advocated the opening of a Second Front in Western Europe in order to help the Soviet Union in its fight with Germany. Churchill responded by calling Bevan the Minister of Disease.

Bevan believed that the Second World War would give Britain the opportunity to create a new society. He often quoted Karl Marx who had said in 1885: "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: "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."

Government

After Labour victory in the General Election of 1945 Bevan was surprisingly appointed by the Prime Minister Clement Attlee as Minister of Health and Housing. In this Parliament Labour had a sufficient majority to push through its Welfare State, despite constant attacks on Bevan from the Conservatives. In 1946 the National Insurance Act was passed, putting in place the structure of a universal state health system (William Beveridge's Report) and pensions and unemployment, sickness, maternity and widows' benefits, all funded by compulsory contributions from employer and employee.

In 1948, after opposition from the BMA, the National Health Service Act started the actual National Health Service, the "appointed day" being July 5. People in Britain were provided with free diagnosis and treatment of illness, at home or in hospital, as well as dental and ophthalmic services. As Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan was now in charge of 2,688 hospitals in England and Wales.

Despite his successes Bevan was down-graded to Minister of Labour in 1951, but soon resigned in protest at Hugh Gaitskell's introduction of prescription charges (for dental care and spectacles), in order to meet the financial demands imposed on the budget by the Korean War, along with John Freeman and Harold Wilson.

Backbenches

Although out of the Cabinet Bevan had initiated a 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 (Bevanites) in the Commons. Bevan's Tribune Group criticised high defence expenditure (especially over nuclear weapons) and opposed the reformist policies of Clement Attlee.

Bevan however also worked to resolve the split, becoming more moderate. When the right-wing Hugh Gaitskell became leader in 1955 he was prepared to make Bevan shadow minister for the colonies and then shadow foreign secretary in 1956. In 1959 despite illness Bevan became deputy leader of the Labour Party. He could do little in his new role and soon died of cancer on 6th July, 1960.

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