Aneurin Bevan was one of the most important
ministers of the post-war Labour government and the chief
architect of the National Health Service. He was born on 15
November 1897 in Tredegar in Wales. His father was a miner and the
poor working class family in which Bevan grew up gave him
first-hand experience of the problems of poverty and disease.
Bevan left school at 13 and began working in a
local colliery. He became a trades union activist and won a
scholarship to study in London. It was during this period that he
became convinced by the ideas of socialism. During the 1926
General Strike Bevan emerged as one of the leaders of the South
Wales miners. In 1929 Bevan was elected as the Labour MP for Ebbw
Vale. In 1934 he married another Labour MP, Jennie Lee.
During World War Two, Bevan was one of the
leaders of the left in the House of Commons. After the landslide
Labour victory in the 1945 general election, Bevan was appointed
Minister of Health. He inherited complex plans assembled by
the previous Conservative administration, which were the result of
many compromises. He took a fresh look at the possibilities
and the many power groups and decided that instead of giving local
authorities a lead role, all hospitals should be taken into public
ownership as they would need so much public money. In doing
to he alienated members of his own cabinet, such as Herbert
Morrison who was a strong supporter of the London County Council.
Firmly on the left, he distrusted some in his own party as
unlikely to build a socialist Jerusalem. He felt that where
medical need existed, medical care should follow and that budgets
should be of secondary importance.
In 1951 Bevan was moved to become minister of
labour. Shortly afterwards he resigned from the government in
protest at the public expenditure on the military and the
introduction of prescription charges for dental care and
spectacles. Bevan led the left wing of the Labour Party, known as
the 'Bevanites', for the next five years. In 1955 he stood as one
of the candidates for party leader but was defeated by Hugh
Gaitskell. He agreed to serve as shadow foreign secretary under
In 1959 Bevan was elected deputy leader of the
Labour Party, although he was already suffering from terminal
cancer. He died on 6 July 1960. A BMJ editorial described him as
the most brilliant Minister of Health the country had ever had,
much less doctrinaire in his approach than many of his Labour
colleagues, and conceiving the NHS on more liberal lines than his
Conservative predecessor. He towered over a long line of Ministers
of Health and attracted in the medical profession profound
admiration on one side and the sharpest antagonism on the other.
The editorial proceeded to claim that the medical profession,
rather than Bevan, was the principal architect of the NHS!
Much material on Bevan is to be found in
Wikipedia and on the web more generally, including the BBC
website, partly used above.