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Aneurin Bevan

Though he never achieved the highest political office, Aneurin Bevan is arguably the most influential, and certainly the most inspirational figure in the history of the Labour party.

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Aneurin Bevan MP and his wife Jennie Lee at a...

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The Man from Tredegar

 

Throughout his life Bevan generated strong feelings and reactions. The combination of his powerful oratory and disdain for political opponents guaranteed him special attention. He was once described by Churchill as a “squalid nuisance”. Bevan returned the compliment when he described all Tories as “lower than vermin”.

Born into a non-conformist family in Tredegar, Bevan left school at the age of 13. He began work at the Tytryst Colliery, from where he was eventually sacked for his trade union activities. In 1929 Bevan was elected the Labour Party MP for Ebbw Vale.

His immense talent quickly shone on the political stage. His ability as a speaker brought him respect in the House of Commons, where members of all parties would go into the Chamber just to hear him speak. He could also draw thousands to a public meeting. It was,however, his achievements as a key figure in the first post-war Labour government that have had the most enduring impact, one that even Bevan himself may not have anticipated.

As Minister of Health, Bevan was responsible for one of the most profound acts of modern social reform. By establishing the National Health Service and expanding the system of National Insurance created by David Lloyd George, he personally shaped the creation of the modern welfare state.

Bevan resigned from government in 1951 over proposals to introduce prescription charges and for a while he was a rallying point for the left within the Labour Party. However in 1956 he returned to the front benches to serve to serve as Shadow Foreign Secretary.

The following year he shocked his political supporters by dramatically denouncing the case for unilateral nuclear disarmament. By 1959 when he became Deputy Leader he was already a very ill man. He died of cancer on 6th July 1960.

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