: BRITISH POLITICAL HISTORY
Who was Aneurin (Nye) Bevan?
‘I do not represent the big bosses at the top. I represent the people at the bottom, the individual men and women’
Aneurin Bevan, House of Commons, 28 April 1944
Born in Tredegar in November 1897, Bevan left school at thirteen to work in the Ty-tryst Colliery.
It was the economic and social realities of life on the South Wales coalfield which shaped Bevan’s political outlook. Two-thirds of the adult men in the town worked for the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company.
The sixth of ten children, four of his siblings would die before adulthood. His father, also a coal miner, died in his arms in 1925 ‘choked to death by pneumoconiosis’.
Bevan wrote in In Place of Fear that as a young miner his ‘concern was with the one practical question, where does power lie… and how can it be attained by the workers? …for us power meant the use of collective action designed to transform society and so lift all of us together’.
Bevan became an active trade unionist and joined the Independent Labour Party. By the age of nineteen, he was Chairman of the Tredegar Lodge of the South Wales Miners’ Federation.
He spent two years at the Central Labour College in London, sponsored by the SWMF, before returning to South Wales in 1921.
He was largely unemployed until 1926 when he became a union official. Bevan was one of the leaders of the South Wales miners during the 1926 General Strike.
Bevan served as a Labour councillor on Tredegar District Council and Monmouthshire County Council. At the 1929 General Election, he won Ebbw Vale, a seat he would hold until his death from stomach cancer in July 1960.
Bevan excelled at Parliamentary debate and is remembered for the quality and sincerity of his speeches. A firebrand left-winger, he held strong socialist values and spoke up for the working classes and the underprivileged.
During World War Two Bevan regularly spoke from the backbenches, challenging the Coalition Government over social issues and its prosecution of the war. Churchill called him a ‘squalid nuisance’.
In the 1945 Labour Government Attlee appointed Bevan Minister for Health and Housing. Insisting on quality over quantity, over one million new homes had been built by the end of 1951.
However, he is most remembered for one of Labour’s greatest achievements, the introduction of the NHS in July 1948.
In 1951 Bevan was moved from Health and appointed Minister of Labour. He resigned from the government shortly afterwards when Chancellor Hugh Gaitskell introduced NHS charges for spectacles and dentures.
Bevan became the figurehead for the left-wing of the Labour Party, known as the Bevanites. After Attlee’s retirement in 1955, Bevan was defeated in the Party Leadership contest by Gaitskell.
Despite their previous differences he agreed to serve as Gaitskell’s Shadow Foreign Secretary. In November 1959 he was elected Deputy Leader.
Bevan died at the home he shared with his wife, the Labour MP Jennie Lee, on the 6 July 1960 aged sixty-two.
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