Black and white photograph of Aneurin Bevan

Aneurin Bevan (1897 - 1960)

Firebrand socialist and orator who is regarded as the father of the National Health Service.

Aneurin Bevan was born in Tredegar in 1897 into a large mining family and left school at 13 to work in the mine. By 19 he was active in trade unionism and was head of his local miners' lodge, becoming a well-known orator and social commentator.

Funded by the South Wales Miners' Federation, Bevan spent two years studying economics, politics and history at the Central Labour College in London. He discovered Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, solidifying his left-wing political outlook.

The early 1920s were difficult for Bevan as he returned to Tredegar, only working intermittently as a miner. He worked as unpaid advisor to the area's residents, then in 1926 he was appointed a union official just as the General Strike came into force.

The strike brought Bevan to the fore as a leader of the South Wales miners, and he orchestrated the distribution of strike pay in Tredegar during the six months lock-out the miners endured after the industrial action.

He became a councillor on Monmouth County Council in 1928, then a member of parliament for Ebbw Vale in 1929. His maiden speech was an attack on Winston Churchill, who he saw as the main enemy of the miners.

Bevan married a fellow left-wing Labour MP, Jennie Lee, in 1934 and together they campaigned to support the Socialists in the Spanish Civil War against Franco as well as setting up the Committee for the Relief of the Victims of German Fascism.

In 1936 a group of prominent left-wingers including Bevan set up a weekly Socialist newspaper, The Tribune, followed by trips around Spain during the Civil War. His activism and agitation led to his brief expulsion from Labour in 1939, but he agreed to toe the party line and was readmitted.

Despite opposing Churchill in mining matters, Bevan argued that he should replace Neville Chamberlain as prime minister. But once Winston Churchill was in power, Bevan criticised the wartime reductions in civil liberties.

In 1945, the general election saw Labour returned comprehensively to government. Bevan saw this post-war victory as a chance to implement radical social reform, and on 5 July 1948, the National Health Service was created under him as secretary of state for health.

He wasn't prepared to compromise his free-at-the-point-of-use ideals for the NHS, so when Hugh Gaitskell, chancellor of the exchequer, introduced prescription and other charges he resigned as minister for health.

He led the left wing of the Labour Party from the back benches until he ran for the leadership of the party in 1955. He was defeated by Gaitskill, but was made shadow colonial then shadow foreign secretary.

In 1959 he was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party, but died in 1960 of cancer, having made his reputation as father of the NHS.


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