Last modified on 12 July 2016, at 16:16

Aneurin Bevan

Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960) (commonly called Nye Bevan) was a British left wing socialist politician and cabinet minister in the post-war Labour government of Clement Attlee.

Bevan was born in Tredegar, Monmouthshire, in south Wales; his father was a coal miner and Bevan himself started work in the pits at the age of 13. He became a trade union activist, and was converted to Marxism while on a scholarship to the union-supported Central Labour College in London. Returning to south Wales in 1921, he found himself blacklisted, and did not work again until 1924. In 1926 he became a full-time miners' union official and in 1929 was elected to Parliament as Labour MP for Ebbw Vale. A spokesman for the left wing of the Labour Party, he was expelled for some months in 1939 for supporting a United Front of the Labour Party and Communist Party of Great Britain.

During the war he agitated for the opening of a 'Second Front' in western Europe to relieve pressure on the Soviet Union, and was described by Winston Churchill (whom Bevan had supported for the premiersjhip in 1940) as "a squalid nuisance."

In 1945 Bevan was made Minister of Health in the new Labour government, an onerous role that included responsibility for housing as well as health matters. He is remembered partly for his work in bringing about the construction of some hundreds of thousands of municipal houses despite severe shortages of materials, but mainly for his role in creating the National Health Service, which was inaugurated on 5 July 1948. Bevan was made Minister of Labour in 1951 but resigned from the cabinet, with Harold Wilson and John Freeman, in protest at the decision by Chancellor of the Exchequer Hugh Gaitskell to impose charges for spectacles and dentures.

As a back-bencher, Bevan was the leader of a clique of left-wing Labour MPs who became known as 'Bevanites'; their opposition to party policy, coupled with Bevan's increaingly rancorous temperament, brought increasing splits to the Parliamentary party, from which Bevan was briefly suspended in 1955. However, following the resignation of Clement Atlee as Labour leader in 1955, his replacement, Gaitskell, appointed Bevan to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Colonial Secretary; and a year later, as Shadow Foreign Secretary. In this role Bevan outraged many of his former left-wing supporters when, at the 1957 Labour Party conference, he denounced calls for unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom, saying famously that such a policy would send him, as a putative future Labour Foreign Secretary, "naked into the conference chamber."

Bevan died of cancer in 1960.

In 1934 Bevan married Jennie Lee (1904-1988), also a socialist MP, but at that time a member for the Independent Labour Party rather than the Labour Party. Between 1964 and 1967 she served as Arts Minister in the Labour Government of Harold Wilson.