Aneurin Bevan

Welsh politician (1897-1960)

Aneurin Bevan (15 November 18976 July 1960) was a Welsh Labour Party politician who is best known for overseeing the creation of the National Health Service in the Labour government after World War II. Bevan, a left-winger, was intermittently in trouble with the Labour leadership; in the 1950s he astonished his supporters by opposing unilateral nuclear disarmament. He overcame a speech impediment and was regarded as one of the most eloquent public speakers of his day.

Not even the apparently enlightened principle of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ can excuse indifference to individual suffering. There is no test for progress other than its impact on the individual.




  • We have a right to say that, if it means slightly dearer coal, it is better to have slightly dearer coal than cheaper colliers. Hon. Gentlemen here must face the issue that when they vote against this Bill, they are voting for lower wages for the colliers... It is always characteristic of Liberal hypocrisy to pay lip service to these things and refuse to face the consequences that follow from them. We say that you cannot get from the already dry veins of the miners new blood to revivify the industry. There veins are shrunken white, and we are asking you [addressing himself directly to David Lloyd George] to be, for once, decent to the miners—not to pay lip service, not to say that you are very sorry for them, not to say that that you are very sorry that these accidents occur, not to say that you are very sorry for the low level of wages and for the conditions of famine which have existed in the mining districts since the War, and then to use all your Parliamentary skill, all your rhetoric, in an act of pure demagogy to expose the mining community of this country to another few years of misery.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on the Coal Mines Bill (27 February 1930), quoted in John Campbell, Lloyd George: The Goat in the Wilderness, 1922–1931 (1977), pp. 258-259
  • Any impartial examination of the British courts will show that even now, when the capitalist class of Great Britain can afford the luxury of apparent impartiality, there is evidence of bias in the courts, and when we start to challenge your position and when your property is in peril your judicial impartiality will go as it has in the past, as it has in Germany, as it has all over the world. The reason why you are so kind and benevolent at the moment is that we do not threaten you. Political toleration is a by-product of the complacency of the ruling class. When that complacency is disturbed there never was a more bloody-minded set of thugs than the British ruling class.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (5 April 1933)
  • The Labour Party should oppose the Government arms plan root and branch.
    • Tribune, 19 February 1937.
  • If the immediate international situation is used as an excuse to get us to drop our opposition to the rearmament programme of the Government, the next phase must be that we must desist from any industrial or political action that may disturb national unity in the face of Fascist aggression. Along that road is endless retreat, and at the end of it a voluntary totalitarian State with ourselves erecting the barbed wire around. You cannot collaborate, you cannot accept the logic of collaboration on a first class issue like rearmament, and at the same time evade the implications of collaboration all along the line when the occasion demands it.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference of 1937, quoted in John Campbell, Nye Bevan and the Mirage of British Socialism (1987), p. 77
  • Economics, said Mr Stanley, is 50% psychology … What we need, apparently, is not statesman but hypnotists, not scientists, but witchdoctors, not confidence born of scientific prediction of the future, but confidence created by a political Confidence Trick. There is nothing surprising in this. It is the kind of mystic Mumbo-Jumbo to which capitalism is driven when austere reason pronounces sentence of death upon it. It is the primitive recoil from reality and the burdens of reality which lies at the root of Fascist psychology.
    • Tribune (5 November 1937)
  • The fear of Hitler is to be used to frighten the workers of Britain into silence. In short Hitler is to rule Britain by proxy. If we accept the contention that the common enemy is Hitler and not the British capitalist class, then certainly Churchill is right. But it means abandonment of the class struggle and the subservience of the British workers to their own employers.
    • Tribune (19 November 1937), quoted in John Campbell, Nye Bevan and the Mirage of British Socialism (1987), p. 77
  • What argument have they to persuade the young men to fight except merely in another squalid attempt to defend themselves against a redistribution of the international swag?
    • Hansard, House of Commons 5th series, vol. 346, col. 2139.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on 4 May 1939 opposing conscription.


  • [T]he country is now more concerned with the Prime Minister winning the war than with his winning a Debate in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister wins Debate after Debate and loses battle after battle. The country is beginning to say that he fights Debates like a war and the war like a Debate.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (2 July 1942)
  • We have in this country five or six generals, members of other nations, Czechs, Poles and French, all of them trained in the use of these German weapons and this German technique. I know it is hurtful to our pride, but would it not be possible to put some of those men temporarily in charge in the field, until we can produce trained men of our own? ... [Y]ou have to purge the Army at the top. It will have to be a drastic purge, because the spirit of the British Army has to be regained.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (2 July 1942)
  • The Prime Minister must realise that in this country there is a taunt, on everyone's lips, that if Rommel had been in the British Army, he would still have been a sergeant.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (2 July 1942)
  • The rest of the responsibility for the early collapse of the Debate must, of course, rest with the Prime Minister himself, because his speech was unable to compete in attractiveness with the House of Commons meals, and everybody here knows what that means. If the Prime Minister will insist, on these occasions, on indulging in these turgid, wordy, dull, prosaic and almost invariably empty new chapters in his book, then he must expect something like what happened yesterday. ... I understand from my informants...that the Prime Minister was dressed in some uniform of some sort or other. I wish he would recognise that he is the civilian head of a civilian Government, and not go parading around in ridiculous uniforms.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (9 September 1942)
  • I have spent now more than a quarter of a century of my life in public affairs, and as I grow older I become more and more pessimistic. I started-if the House will forgive me this personal note - my career in public affairs in a small colliery town in South Wales. When I was quite a young boy my father took me down the street and showed me one or two portly and complacent looking gentlemen standing at the shop doors, and, pointing to one, he said, "Very important man. That's Councillor Jackson. He's a very important man in this town." I said, "What's the Council?" "Oh, that's the place that governs the affairs of this town," said my father. "Very important place indeed, and they are very powerful men." When I got older I said to myself, "The place to get to is the council. That's where the power is." So I worked very hard, and, in association with my fellows, when I was about 20 years of age, I got on to the council. I discovered when I got there that the power had been there, but it had just gone. So I made some inquiries, being an earnest student of social affairs, and I learned that the power had slipped down to the county council. That was as where it was, and where it had gone to. So I worked very hard again, and I got there-and it had gone from there too. Then I found out that it had come up here. So I followed it, and sure enough I found that it had been here, but I just saw its coat tails round the corner.
    • Hansard, House of Commons 5th series, vol 395, columns 1616-1617.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 15 December 1943.
  • By refusing the state effective intervention in the economic activities of society, the Tory is a potential Fascist element in the community. By denying Parliament a vigorous economic life he condemns it to death.
    • Why Not Trust the Tories? (1944), p. 84
  • I do not represent the big bosses at the top; I represent the people at the bottom, the individual men and women, and I say that this Regulation is the enfranchisment of the corporate society and the disfranchisment of the individual.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (28 April 1944) against regulation 1AA, which restricted the right to strike
  • I will go so far as to say that if the implications of the [Employment] White Paper are sound, there is no longer any justification for this party existing at all. We think that we represent a fundamental body of doctrine which is conducive to the welfare of the State, and which subsequently the State will have to adopt if it is to be saved. Therefore, I do not see for the life of me—and I am putting a serious proposition to the House—how a Coalition Government can pretend to be able to examine a situation of this sort and put an intelligible series of propositions to the House.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (23 June 1944)
  • Apparently some fire-eaters to-day have been saying "Never again must we allow ourselves to get into the same condition of military unpreparedness, so we are going to build up a vast war machine in this country in order to surround defeated Germany with a sea of peaceful tranquillity..." It looks as though the consequences of defeat will be more desirable than those of victory.
    • Hansard, House of Commons 5th series, vol. 402, col. 1559.
    • Speech in the House of Commons on 2 August 1944.
  • This island is made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organizing genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish at the same time.
    • Daily Herald, 25 May 1945
    • Speech at Blackpool, 24 May 1945.
  • [For Winston Churchill], democracy is a state in which the people acquiesce in the rule of property. Democracy is an admirable institution so long as the poor continue to carry the rich on their backs. When the poor decide to change places, democracy falls into disrepute. That is why, whenever you scratch a Tory, you find a Fascist.
    • Tribune (13 July 1945), quoted in John Campbell, Nye Bevan and the Mirage of British Socialism (1987), p. 142
  • I deplore the letter today in The Times from a distinguished orthopaedist, who talked about private practice as though it should be the glory of the profession. What should be the glory of the profession is that a doctor should be able to meet his patients with no financial anxiety.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (9 February 1948)
  • [W]e ought to take pride in the fact that, despite our financial and economic anxieties, we are still able to do the most civilised thing in the world—put the welfare of the sick in front of every other consideration.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (9 February 1948)
  • Why should we, who are clearing up the muddle, allow ourselves to be scared by headlines in the capitalist Press? It is the most prostituted Press in the world, most of it owned by a gang of millionaires.
    • Speech in Scarborough (16 May 1948), quoted in The Times (17 May 1948), p. 3
  • That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation. Now the Tories are pouring out money in propaganda of all sorts and are hoping by this organised sustained mass suggestion to eradicate from our minds all memory of what we went through. But, I warn you young men and women, do not listen to what they are saying now. Do not listen to the seductions of Lord Woolton. He is a very good salesman. If you are selling shoddy stuff you have to be a good salesman. But I warn you they have not changed, or if they have they are slightly worse than they were.
    • Speech at the Belle Vue Hotel, Manchester, on the eve of the entry into force of the National Health Service (4 July 1948), quoted in Greg Rosen, Old Labour to New: The Dreams that Inspired, the Battles that Divided (2005), p. 150
  • In 1945 and 1946 we were attacked on our housing policy by every spiv in the country—for what is Toryism except organised spivery? They wanted to let the spivs loose.
    • Speech at the Belle Vue Hotel, Manchester (4 July 1948), quoted in The Times (5 July 1948), p. 4
  • I am keeping the mothers and children alive, but he half-starved them to death. He has the impudence to call me Minister of Disease when every single vital statistic by which the health and progress of the population can be measured is infinitely better now under the supervision of a common miner than it was then under the supervision of an aristocrat. I know if you took the vital statistics of the aristocrats they were as well off then as now. He looked after them all right. I am not concerned about that; I am concerned about our own people. Some people are worse off than before the war, of course. We meant them to be.
    • Speech in Durham after Winston Churchill called Bevan the "Minister of Disease" (24 July 1948), quoted in The Times (26 July 1948), p. 6
  • I may be ready to be polite 20 years from now, when we are able to look back on 25 years of Socialist government. Then maybe I won't have enough energy to be rude. But while we have the energy to be rude let us be rude to the right people.
    • Speech in Durham (24 July 1948), quoted in The Times (26 July 1948), p. 6
  • [T]he kind of society which we envisage and which we shall have to live in will be a mixed society, a mixed economy, in which all the essential instruments of planning are in the hands of the State, in which the characteristic form of employment will be by the community in one form or another but where we shall have for a very long time the light cavalry of private, competitive industry.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (8 June 1949), quoted in Labour Party Annual Conference Report, 1949, p. 171 and The Times (9 June 1949), p. 2
  • Never in the history of mankind have the best religious ideas found greater expression than in the programme we have carried out. “Suffer little children to come unto Me” is now not something said just from the pulpit. We have weaved it into the woof and warp of the national life.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (8 June 1949), quoted in The Times (9 June 1949), p. 2
  • The language of priorities is the religion of socialism.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (8 June 1949), quoted in The Times (9 June 1949), p. 2
  • I welcome this opportunity of pricking the bloated bladder of lies with the poniard of truth.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, answering the Conservatives' amendment that criticised the government for the devaluation of the pound (29 September 1949)
  • It has been suggested, I think by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) that the most constructive suggestion he could make was to urge an early General Election and a return of a Tory Government in Britain. Why on earth should he want to prophesy what might result from a Tory Government when history has the record for him? Why read the crystal when he can read the book?
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 468, col. 319.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 29 September 1949.


  • The liberal never knew what kind of society he intended until he had, in fact, made it. If we, on the other hand, accept the obligation of planning the direction of economic activity, then we accept with it the burden of deciding who and what must first be served. ... This is the complex answer to those who think socialism is merely a matter of appetite. On the contrary, it is the first time in human history that mankind will have accepted the obligation of free collective moral choice as the ultimate arbiter in social affairs. This, in truth, is the People's Coming of Age.
    • Article in Tribune shortly before the 1950 general election, quoted in Alan Budd, The Politics of Economic Planning (1978), p. 78
  • A very large part of the population of Wales was English-speaking, and the English-speaking part had a contribution just as big, if not bigger, to make towards Welsh cultural life than the Welsh-speaking part. A great deal of the literature of which Welshmen were proud and a great deal of the poetry for which this generation would be noted had been written in English by Welshmen.
    • Speech to the annual dinner of the Tredegar Orpheus male voice party after the Eisteddfod ruled that set pieces were to be sung in Welsh (24 March 1951), quoted in The Times (26 March 1951), p. 4
  • There is only one hope for mankind, and that hope still remains in this little island. It is from here that we tell the world where to go and how to go there, but we must not follow behind the anarchy of American competitive capitalism which is unable to restrain itself at all, as is seen in the stockpiling that is now going on, and which denies to the economy of Great Britain even the means of carrying on our civil production.
  • [I]t is seriously suggested that before this nation has shown its capacity to manage democratic institutions peacefully we should allow it to rearm. I say to America and the people of the world that we are not yet feeling safe enough to allow another German rearmament to take place.
    • Speech in Huyton, Lancashire (21 July 1951), quoted in The Times (23 July 1951), p. 4
  • The Communist Party is the sworn inveterate enemy of the Socialist and Democratic Parties. When it associates with them, it does so as a preliminary to destroying them. There is an old German aphorism which says: "To cast an enemy out it is first necessary to embrace him." That is what the Communists mean when they ask for co-operation and alliance with the Socialists... The Communist does not look upon a Socialist as an ally in a common cause. He looks upon him as a dupe, as a temporary convenience, and as something to be thrust ruthlessly to one side when he has served his purpose.
    • 'Foreword', Denis Healey, The Curtain Falls: The Story of the Socialists in Eastern Europe (1951), p. 6
  • I am not anti-American...but I do not believe that the American nation has the experience, sagacity, or the self-restraint necessary for world leadership at this time. They are engaged in the most tremendous rearmament programme the world has ever seen, and I cannot see any sense in it, and no one has yet tried to put any sense in it. ... When are we going to have some sense of national pride and tell the United States that she cannot have Great Britain on any terms? The Americans would understand us. They like plain speaking. Why do we not speak plainly to them?
    • Speech in Jarrow (16 March 1952), quoted in The Times (17 March 1952), p. 4
  • Now that we are engaged once more in policy-making it is essential that we should keep clear before us that one of the central principles of Socialism is the substitution of public for private ownership. There is no way round this.
    • ‘The Fatuity of Coalition’, Tribune (13 June 1952), p. 2, quoted in Notes on Current Politics (1952), p. 31 and W. H. Greenleaf, The British Political Tradition, Volume Two: The Ideological Heritage (1983), p. 471
  • [L]ife would indeed be easy if it were always clear what our duty is. Usually there is a conflict of duties as there is of loyalties. In order to serve one you often have to abandon the others. I remember a man saying to me during the last war that he had no use for rebels. Then I asked him how he would describe a German living in Germany and working for the defeat of the Nazis? Judged by conventional standards, the man was a rebel and a traitor. But judged in the wider context of humanity he was a hero. All you can really say here is that a man ought not to betray his first loyalty. The fact is that few people do. The problem is one of deciding which is the first loyalty from among a number of competing ones. And the higher the intelligence, the wider the knowledge, the keener the imagination, then the more loyalties there will be competing for our allegiance, and of course, the deeper the spiritual struggle involved in sorting them out.
    • This I Believe, ed. Edward P. Morgan (1953), p. 10
  • We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down.
    • In the Observer, 6 December 1953.
  • For the Jew, the immediacy of his remote past is an intimate reality. He is living among places whose names are enshrined in his racial literature and they make sweet music to his ears. From Dan to Beersheba, he can now make a journey – Nazareth, Galilee, Jerusalem, all these and so many more belong to him in a special sense, for they whisper in his blood, and evoke memories of a time that was, before he was compelled to seek shelter in reluctant lands. When therefore the Arab says that the Jew should find a home anywhere except in Palestine he asks something the Jew cannot concede without mutilating his racial personality beyond endurance. It is no answer to say that many centuries have passed into history since the Jew was at home in Palestine. If he had been permitted the security of a safe home elsewhere, the answer might do. But, as we know, it was not so.
    • Statement following his first visit to Israel (January 1954), quoted in Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan, Volume Two: 1945–1960 [1973] (1975), p. 416
  • The day of imperial power is over. We are ashamed of our imperial past in Great Britain, and you have a lot to be ashamed of, too.
    • Speech in Tokyo, Japan (3 September 1954), quoted in The Times (4 September 1954), p. 5
  • I know that the right kind of leader for the Labour Party is a kind of desiccated calculating-machine who must not in any way permit himself to be swayed by indignation. If he sees suffering, privation or injustice, he must not allow it to move him, for that would be evidence of the lack of proper education or of absence of self-control. He must speak in calm and objective accents and talk about a dying child in the same way as he would about the pieces inside an internal combustion engine.
    • Tribune Rally, 29 September 1954, in response to Clement Attlee's wish for a non-emotional response to German rearmament. The remark 'desiccated calculating-machine' is often taken as a Bevan jibe against Hugh Gaitskell who became Labour Party leader the following year.
  • Damn it all, you can't have the crown of thorns and the thirty pieces of silver.
    • On his position in the Labour Party (c. 1956), quoted in Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan: A Biography, Volume 2 (1973), p. 503
  • If the Labour Party is not going to be a Socialist Party, I don't want to lead it.
    • Speech in the Albert Hall, Manchester (4 February 1956), quoted in Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan, Volume Two: 1945–1960 [1973] (1975), p. 498
  • Nasser's a thug. He needs to be taught a lesson.
    • Remark to Ian Mikardo after Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal (August 1956), quoted in Mervyn Jones, Michael Foot (1994), p. 214
  • Bevan described the proposal for a free trade market for Europe as a "will-of-the-wisp" which they were expected to spend their time following in Westminster. The whole idea was purely a nineteenth-century conception.
    • Speech in Bristol (20 October 1956), quoted in The Times (22 October 1956), p. 2
  • I could quote almost all the ultimatums given by Hitler to countries that he invaded where he used exactly the same kind of language as the Prime Minister used the other day. The same language was used to Norway. ... We have only to substitute Egypt for Norway, because what did the right hon. Gentleman say? He said that he expected the Egyptian Government to peacefully permit the re-occupation of bases on the [Suez] Canal by the British Forces, and if they resisted they would be overcome with all necessary force. That is exactly what he said. Quite honestly, this is the language of the bully. There is no semblance of legal justification behind it.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (1 November 1956)
  • We say that Great Britain has always stood for civilised principles, and for humanity and justice. How do we answer now, when we drop bombs on helpless people? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, when we drop bombs. How do we answer now at whatever judgment seat any hon. Member likes to mention? A nation more powerful than us may drop even worse bombs on British cities. How answer that? With bombs? Bombs with bombs? That is the bankruptcy of statesmanship. The world has travelled that way in my own lifetime twice. We dare not travel that way again, because this time there will be no return.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (1 November 1956)
  • Sir Anthony Eden has been pretending that he is now invading Egypt in order to strengthen the United Nations. Every burglar of course could say the same thing, he could argue that he was entering the house in order to train the police. So, if Sir Anthony Eden is sincere in what he is saying, and he may be, he may be, then if he is sincere in what he is saying then he is too stupid to be a prime minister.
    • Speech on November 4th at "Law not War" rally in Trafalgar Square, London, during the Suez crisis of 1956.
  • The social furniture of modern society is so complicated and fragile that it cannot support the jackboot. We cannot run the processes of modern society by attempting to impose our will upon nations by armed force. If we have not learned that we have learned nothing.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (5 December 1956)
  • I do not take the view that Great Britain is a second-class Power. On the contrary, I take the view that this country is a depository of probably more concentrated experience and skill than any other country in the world.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (19 December 1956)
  • The great Powers of the world today as they look at the armaments they have built up, find themselves hopelessly frustrated. If that be the case, what is the use of speaking about first-class, second-class and third-class Powers? That is surely the wrong language to use. It does not comply with contemporary reality. What we have to seek is new ways of being great, new modes of pioneering, new fashions of thought, new means of inspiring and igniting the minds of mankind. We can do so.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 562, cols. 1404-5.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 19 December 1956.
  • The collective psychology of the Moslem states is definitely repulsive to me. It is so morbid and wildly irrational that I am conscious of an abiding sense of unease when I am in one of them.
    • Letter to Jennie Lee during his visit to Asia (April 1957), quoted in Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan, Volume Two: 1945–1960 [1973] (1975), pp. 545–546
  • [The Common Market is not] a blueprint for European prosperity and stability. ...[it is] the result of a political malaise following upon the failure of Socialists to use the sovereign power of their Parliaments to plan their economic life. ... Socialists cannot at one and the same time call for economic planning and accept the verdict of free competition, no matter how extensive the area it covers. The jungle is not made more acceptable just because it is almost limitless.
    • Article in Tribune, quoted in The Times (31 August 1957), p. 7 and The Times (14 October 1957), p. 8
  • I knew this morning that I was going to make a speech that would offend, and even hurt, many of my friends. I know that you are deeply convinced that the action you suggest is the most effective way of influencing international affairs. I am deeply convinced that you are wrong. It is therefore not a question of who is in favour of the hydrogen bomb, but a question of what is the most effective way of getting the damn thing destroyed. It is the most difficult of all problems facing mankind. But if you carry this resolution and follow out all its implications — and do not run away from it — you will send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber. ... And you call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm.
    • Speech at the Labour Party Conference (4 October 1957), on unilateral nuclear disarmament.
  • Just consider, all the little nations running for shelter here and there, one running to Russia and another to the United States. In that situation before anything else would happen, the world will have been polarised between the Soviet Union and the United States. It is against that negative polarisation we have been fighting for years. We want to have the opportunity to interpose between these two giants a moderating, modifying and mitigating diplomacy.
    • Speech at the Labour Party Conference (4 October 1957), on unilateral nuclear disarmament.
  • [I]f as a nation we had decided we would repudiate on ethical and moral grounds the hydrogen bomb, we would then have to repudiate all the alliances based upon the possession of the hydrogen bomb by all the other allies. ... Those who desire that Great Britain should have no allies, and only Russia should have allies, are enemies of Great Britain and, not only that, they are enemies of the working class movement. We are only able to have an influence on the rest of the world if we have friends in the rest of the world.
    • Speech in London (27 April 1958), quoted in The Times (28 April 1958), p. 8
  • Unless we plan our resources purposefully, unless we are prepared to accept the disciplines that are necessary, we shall not be able to meet the challenge of the Communist world. As the years go by, and the people see us languishing behind, trying to prevent the evils of inflation by industrial stagnation, trying all the time to catch up with things because we have not acted soon enough—when they see the Communist world, planned, organised, publicly-owned and flaunting its achievements to the rest of the world—they will come to be educated by what they will experience. They will realise that Western democracy is falling behind in the race because it is not prepared to read intelligently the lessons of the twentieth century.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (3 November 1959)
  • This so-called affluent society is an ugly society still. It is a vulgar society. It is a meretricious society. It is a society in which priorities have gone all wrong.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (29 November 1959), quoted in Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan, Volume Two: 1945–1960 [1973] (1975), p. 642 and The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1999), p. 72
  • The challenge is going to come from Russia. The challenge is not going to come from the United States. The challenge is not going to come from West Germany nor from France. The challenge is going to come from those countries who, however wrong they may be – and I think they are wrong in many fundamental respects – nevertheless are at long last being able to reap the material fruits of economic planning and of public ownership. ... Our main case is and must remain that in a modern complex society it is impossible to get rational order by leaving things to private economic adventure. Therefore I am a Socialist. I believe in public ownership.
    • Speech to the Labour Party Conference in Blackpool (29 November 1959), quoted in Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan, Volume Two: 1945–1960 [1973] (1975), pp. 643–644

In Place of Fear (1952)

Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1952).
  • The issue therefore in a capitalist democracy resolves itself into this: either poverty will use democracy to win the struggle against property, or property, in fear of poverty, will destroy democracy.
    • p. 3
  • If freedom is to be saved and enlarged, poverty must be ended. There is no other solution.
    • p. 3
  • The function of parliamentary democracy, under universal franchise, historically considered, is to expose wealth-privilege to the attack of the people. It is a sword pointed at the heart of property-power. The arena where the issues are joined is Parliament.
    • p. 5
  • No serious student who studies the history of the last half century can deny the ferment of ideas associated with the names of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Their effectiveness in arming the minds of working-class leaders all over the world with intellectual weapons showed that their teaching had an organic relationship with the political and social realities of their time.
    • p. 17
  • Freedom is the by-product of economic surplus.
    • p. 39
  • Man must first live before he can live abundantly.
    • p. 40
  • A free health service is pure Socialism and as such it is opposed to the hedonism of capitalist society.
    • p. 81
  • A free Health Service is a triumphant example of the superiority of collective action and public initiative applied to a segment of society where commercial principles are seen at their worst.
    • p. 85
  • Democratic Socialism is not a middle way between capitalism and Communism. If it were merely that, it would be doomed to failure from the start. It cannot live by borrowed vitality. Its driving power must derive from its own principles and the energy released by them. It is based on the conviction that free men can use free institutions to solve the social and economic problems of the day, if they are given a chance to do so.
    • pp. 95–96
  • The British constitution, with its adult suffrage, exposes all rights and privileges, properties and powers, to the popular will. The only checks are those that arise from a sense of justice and social propriety.
    • p. 100
  • The conversion of an industry to public ownership is only the first step towards Socialism. It is an all-important step, for without it the conditions of further progress are not established. One important consequence is a shift of power that resolves the conflict between public and private claims. The danger of the State machine being manipulated by private vested interests is thus reduced.
    • pp. 102–103
  • The emergence of modern industry, with its danger of de-personalisation of the worker, challenges the vitality of democratic principles. In the societies of the West, industrial democracy is the counterpart of political freedom. Liberty and responsibility march together. They must be joined together in the workshop as in the legislative Assembly. Only when this is accomplished shall we have the foundations of a buoyant and stable civilisation.
    • p. 105
  • The spiv has entered into modern literature not only as a by-product of a rationing system. He is the modern equivalent of the smuggler. He is the prototype of the evader of taxes. All this occasions the bitterest resentment among those citizens whose social situation forces them to pay in full. The consequences from a Socialist point of view of what really amounts to a penalisation of the honest and of those whose job does not permit evasion is exceedingly serious. The power and prosperity of tax evaders thwarts one of the main aims of Socialism: the establishment of just, social relationships.
    • p. 108
  • In times of crisis the Conservative Party invariably attacks State expenditure on the social services so as to relieve the burden on property. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, rushes to the defence of State spending: their supporters are the poor and defenceless who most need it.
    • p. 110
  • The introduction of Italian labour into the mines is not a solution. It is merely an escape from present headaches and a precursor of worse ones to come. In our crowded island no one should pretend that a shortage of labour in a particular industry is solved by bringing workers in from abroad. The problem is one of mal-distribution of our own labour force, and this, in its turn, is the consequence of a capital and wages policy that obeys no long term purposive intention.
    • p. 113
  • There is no evidence to show that the Soviet Union wants a trial of strength.
    • p. 127
  • The political systems of the totalitarian nations might remain fixed for an indefinite time, if they could prevent the intrusion of modern industrial methods. But they are reaching out for these, and to the extent that they adopt them, they start the same chain of events that led to the growth of political democracy in the West. The only political system consistent with the needs of a modern industrial community is democracy. ... When you train workers to make the blueprints of modern industrial machines, to interpret the blueprints, make and work the machines, you are digging the grave of political dictatorship.
    • p. 138
  • Mankind is not born with an insatiable appetite for political liberty. This is the coping stone on the structure of progress, not its base. If political liberty and the institutions which enshrine it were the spontaneous imperatives of the human spirit, our task would be much easier. But they are earth-bound and time bound. The pulse of progress beats differently for different parts of the world, and if we are to understand what is happening around us and act intelligently about it, we must recognise that fact and realise that once we stood where they now stand.
    • p. 140
  • We should try to avoid new causes of tension, such as the rearming of Western Germany.
    • p. 144
  • That so many people suffer from preventable privation, whilst others enjoy privileges and material advantages that do not on any reasonable reckoning flow from personal accomplishments, is evidence of dangerous social instability.
    • p. 152
  • We could manage to survive without money changers and stockbrokers. We should find it harder to do without miners, steel workers and those who cultivate the land.
    • p. 157
  • The spectacle therefore afforded us by the United States is one of technical brilliance and social blindness.
    • p. 162
  • Soon, if we are not more prudent, millions of people will be watching each other starve to death through expensive television sets.
    • p. 164
  • Without free expression of opinion and the means to ensure it a democracy dies.
    • p. 165
  • Not even the apparently enlightened principle of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ can excuse indifference to individual suffering. There is no test for progress other than its impact on the individual.
    • pp. 167-168


  • I read the newspapers avidly. It is my one form of continuous fiction.
    • Interview in The Times (29 March 1960), p. 7


  • There can be no immaculate conception of socialism.
    • Oft repeated: see John Campbell "Nye Bevan" (Richard Cohen Books, 1997)
  • No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied aid because of lack of means.
    • Robert Maxwell, ‘Aneurin Bevan On The NHS: His Commitment Was Deep, Personal, And Romantic’, British Medical Journal, Vol. 304, No. 6821 (Jan. 25, 1992), p. 200
  • Society becomes more wholesome, more serene, and spiritually healthier, if it knows that its citizens have at the back of their consciousness the knowledge that not only themselves, but all their fellows, have access, when ill, to the best that medical care can provide.
    • Robert Maxwell, ‘Aneurin Bevan On The NHS: His Commitment Was Deep, Personal, And Romantic’, British Medical Journal, Vol. 304, No. 6821 (Jan. 25, 1992), p. 200
  • Lloyd George was a bigger man than Churchill, and one of the biggest things about Churchill was that he knew it.
    • quoted in 'David Lloyd George', Michael Foot, Loyalists and Loners (1986), p. 141


  • I stuffed their mouths with gold.
    • Around 1948, Nye Bevan engineered a notorious "bribe" to win the support of hospital consultants. The father of the NHS made his declaration after he brokered a deal in which consultants were paid handsomely for their NHS work while allowing them to maintain private practices.
    • Source: Quote and story in the Guardian, 2 July 2004.


  • The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.
    • Frequently attributed to Bevan as his own words, and sometimes sourced to remarks to NHS patients in 1948 (example), but believed to have been misattributed. The statement was not written down until the television play about Bevan, Food for Ravens (1997) by Trevor Griffiths. Griffiths himself attributes it to Bevan: "I have no written source for it, but old Bevanites in the coalfields were saying something like it during the strikes of the 80s and often quoting Nye as the source." (The truth of Nye Bevan’s words on the NHS) In the script, a dying Bevan is asked by a young boy if he will be remembered for creating the NHS:
      Bevan: Maybe, if it lasts.
      Boy: (looking at press cuttings) Says here it will last forever.
      Bevan: No such thing as forever, boy. It will last only as long as there's folk with faith left to fight for it.

Quotes about Aneurin Bevan

  • His personality and service to the public, for the good, as he saw it, for them, have been quite outstanding. He was a brilliant personality, a wonderful speaker. His writing was such that you felt bound to put him in the class of the intellectual rather than merely the expanded product of the working class. Everybody who has read his book, In Place of Fear, will agree, I think, with that statement. The constant oratory with which he was able to hold in spell—I would not say that it was equal to, but certainly it was in the region of, the spell which could be cast by Mr. Winston Churchill in another place—was quite unique.
  • Bevan was a very remarkable individual. He was a brilliant orator and debater. He proved himself during the Labour Government to be a most capable administrator and during the last few years he had matured as a statesman. His death is a great loss to the Labour and socialist movement. Although we did not always agree I had great admiration and affection for him.
    • Clement Attlee, tribute to Bevan (6 July 1960), quoted in The Times (7 July 1960), p. 12
  • He was a great and imaginative parliamentarian. His death has deprived public life of a warm and rewarding personality. His friends in all parties will mourn his passing.
    • Rab Butler, tribute to Bevan (6 July 1960), quoted in The Times (7 July 1960), p. 16
  • The tool of Marxist analysis that Bevan employed to underpin his criticism of the social and economic system attracted many followers but he was too much of a romantic and poet to believe that the aridities of Marxism, especially as distorted by Stalin, could be a cure for our ills. In personal relations Nye emanated great charm and conversation with him was a delight. The talk bubbed and his flashing intelligence touched what he said with vividness so that new insights seemed to pour from him. At his best on the public platform or in the House of Commons he was magic. He could lift an audience so that they shared with him new heights of understanding and awareness; he could fell his enemies – and sometimes disconcert his friends – with a single devastating phrase, and disarm opponents with a droll wit if the mood was on him.
  • The Socialists dilate upon the National Insurance Scheme, Family Allowances, improved education, welfare foods, food subsidies, and so forth. They point to the benefits flowing to the people from these schemes and particularly to the housewives and children... All these schemes were devised and set in motion in days before the Socialists came to office. They all date from the National Coalition Government of which I was the head. I have worked at national insurance schemes almost all my life and am responsible for several of the largest measures ever passed. The main principles of the new Health Schemes were hammered out in the days of the Coalition Government, before the party and personal malignancy of Mr Bevan plunged health policy into its present confusion.
    • Winston Churchill, Speech to Conservative women (21 April 1948), quoted in Paul Addison, Churchill On The Home Front, 1900–1955 (1992), p. 399
  • [H]e has chosen the very moment of bringing the National Health Service into being to speak of at least half of the British nation as “lower than vermin” and to give vent to the “burning hatred” by which his mind is seared. We speak of the Minister of Health, but ought we not rather to say the Minister of Disease? For is not morbid hatred a form of mental and moral disease and indeed a highly infectious form?
    • Winston Churchill, speech in Woodford, Essex (10 July 1948), quoted in The Times (12 July 1948), p. 6
  • He excelled as a critic, but, in contrast to Ernest Bevin, creative thought at that time was not his strongest characteristic. He would present any number of difficulties to any proposition which came from official sources, but seldom put forward any constructive proposals of a practical character. ... Aneurin Bevan's speech [to the Trades Union Congress at Brighton in 1933] was typical of him as he was at that time—well-phrased, fluent, tricky, and entirely unconvincing. Bevan was a politician by instinct and temperament and he rightly concentrated his main activities in that sphere. In my experience he exercised a negligible influence on trade union policy and action. How different from Ernest Bevin!
  • The P.M. [Winston Churchill] received, very formally, a Labour Deputation about Greece. He insisted on my having them all seated in the Cabinet Room before he came up from luncheon so that he might avoid shaking hands with Aneurin Bevan.
    • Jock Colville's diary (15 January 1945), quoted in The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries, 1939–1955 (1985), p. 552
  • He was, in sympathy, the fellow countryman of any man of any nation throughout the world, ever ready to defend that man, whatever his race, his colour, or his creed, and demand for him equality of rights with all his fellow beings on earth. He hated suffering. He hated inequality. He hated injustice. He hated domination, however and by whomsoever exercised. But, above all, he hated hypocrisy. Aneurin Bevan's supreme qualities were superb, unflinching moral courage, deep sincerity, and complete selflessness. That was his supreme strength. ... There was nothing mean or petty about Aneurin Bevan. He was upright; he was downright; he was forthright. Statesman, administrator, Parliamentarian, orator, incomparable advocate for the weak and the suffering and for justice everywhere, he was, at the same time, a true, sincere, lovable friend, whose memory every one of us will long cherish.
  • The overwhelming impression that remains is of a man of size, a man whose intellect was capacious, lively and illuminating, a man whose emotions were strong and human, a man who believed greatly in his country and who believed also, which is rare these days, in the power of ideas, a man who strove to retain the predominance of politics over economics or mass-psychology. For this, in the end, is what we owe to politicians like him. A democracy cannot survive healthily without the example of individual leaders who dare all as individuals and leave, long after their failures are forgotten, the imprint of a great human being.
    • Henry Fairlie, ‘Why I Class Him with Winston Churchill’, The Daily Mail (7 July 1960), quoted in John Campbell, Nye Bevan and the Mirage of British Socialism (1987), pp. 376–377
  • He was, I believe, the most principled great political leader of the century in the sense that to sustain and apply his principles in practice was the motive power of his life, the passion that absorbed him while others were engaged in the darker corners of the political workshop. … Aneurin Bevan, I believe, did more than any other man of his time to keep alive democratic socialism as the most adventurous, ambitious, intelligent, civilised and truly liberal of modern doctrines. This, the triumph of his whole life and personality, was the greatest of his achievements.
    • Michael Foot, Tribune (8 July 1960), quoted in Brian Brivati (ed.), The Uncollected Michael Foot: Essays Old and New (2003), pp. 253–254
  • There are extraordinary parallels between Nye and Adolf Hitler. They are demagogues of exactly the same sort. ... If Nye were out of the Party, the main Tory propaganda for the next Election would be killed, whereas, if the Executive failed to carry his expulsion, the Tories would assert that Bevan is indispensable and the main master of the Party.
    • Hugh Gaitskell's remarks to Richard Crossman, as recorded in Crossman's diary (24 March 1955), quoted in The Backbench Diaries of Richard Crossman, ed. Janet Morgan (1981), pp. 409–410
  • Easily the most eloquent and impressive speaker in the House of Commons, he was a tower of strength to us in opposition. But he was also quite outstanding as a Minister in the Labour Government and in particular will always be remembered as the architect of the National Health Service. ... Whether one thinks of him as an orator of fire and conviction, a brilliant and formidable advocate, as a witty and urbane companion, or as a cultured and warm-hearted friend, he was above all a man of force and power, a man of strong and independent mind, a man of compelling and magnetic personality, a man who counted—a big man.
    • Hugh Gaitskell, tribute to Bevan (6 July 1960), quoted in The Times (7 July 1960), p. 12
  • Aneurin Bevan, who so eloquently expressed the aspirations of so many Labour men and women, will always be remembered by all who fight for the aims of socialism.
    • John Gollan, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, tribute to Bevan (6 July 1960), quoted in The Times (7 July 1960), p. 16
  • In Place of Fear, which Bevan wrote in the white heat of his resignation, exhibits a broad-minded tolerance and intellectual imagination quite foreign to many of his disciples. At the same time he was too impatient of reality.
  • Nye Bevan was a formidable negotiator. ... [H]e could spot a point or detect a flaw in an argument without waiting for a speaker to finish. He would purr or pounce according to his mood. If a suggestion was unacceptable to him, he would say so at once, never using the comforting formula that "the matter would be considered" when he really meant he rejected it. I do not remember any occasion when he said one thing and meant another—this was part of the trouble at certain moments.
    • Lord Hill of Luton, ‘Aneurin Bevan Among The Doctors’, The British Medical Journal, Vol. 4, No. 5890 (Nov. 24, 1973), p. 468
  • Bevan was petulant and vain, but he was on the frontier of being a great man, and he was certainly a great talker and a considerable wit. To shut oneself off from any concourse with him was like forgoing the opportunity to talk to Fox or Disraeli.
  • Nye is asleep next door. Later today he will be taken home to Wales. Tomorrow he will be cremated in keeping with his known views. He was never a hypocrite. No falsity must touch him once he is no longer available to defend his views. He was not a cold-blooded rationalist. He was no calculating machine. He was a great humanist whose religion lay in loving his fellow men and trying to serve them... He knelt reverently in respect to a friend or friend's faith, but he never pretended to be anything other than what he was, a humanist.
  • I am much grieved to learn of the death of Aneurin Bevan. He was a colleague with me on the back benches in the House of Commons for many years before the war and a real personal friend. He was a great and courageous fighter for what he believed to be right and was respected by members of all parties. He was a great parliamentarian.
    • Harold Macmillan, tribute to Bevan (6 July 1960), quoted in The Times (7 July 1960), p. 12
  • He was the most hated—if also the most idolized—politician of his time. … [I]n five and a half years at the Ministry of Health under Attlee he was to prove himself a great constructive pioneer. He was unusual, almost unique, in the labour movement in combining strong socialist principles with rare creative gifts of practical statesmanship. No less than his fellow-countryman, David Lloyd George, he was to prove himself an artist in the uses of power. … He remains, perhaps, the most attractive figure the British socialist movement has produced in its eighty-odd years of fitful life.
    • Kenneth O. Morgan, Labour People: Leaders and Lieutenants, Hardie to Kinnock (Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 204–205, 218
  • Nye Bevan dies at 4.15 in the afternoon. I regret the loss of this splendid coloured figure and a great parliamentarian and patriot. When I was once being scolded for being malicious in my descriptions of people, Nye protested, "Harold is not malicious at all, He is the angel of pity."
  • He is more of an extremist and more of an internationalist than the average Labour M.P., and it is the combination of this with his working-class origin that makes him an interesting and unusual figure... Bevan thinks and feels as a working man. He knows how the scales are weighted against anyone with less than £5 a week... But he is remarkably free – some of his adversaries would say dangerously free – from any feeling of personal grievance against society. He shows no signs of ordinary class consciousness. He seems equally at home in all kinds of company. It is difficult to imagine anyone less impressed by social status or less inclined to put on airs with subordinates... He has the temperament that used to be called "mercurial" – a temperament capable of sudden low spirits but not of settled pessimism. His boisterous manner sometimes gives casual observers the impression that he is not serious and his warmest admirers do not claim that punctuality is his strong point. But in fact he has a huge capacity for work... He does not have the suspicion of "cleverness" and anaesthesia to the arts which are generally regarded as the mark of a practical man. Those who have worked with him in a journalistic capacity have remarked with pleasure and astonishment that here at last is a politician who knows that literature exists and will even hold up work for five minutes to discuss a point of style.
    • George Orwell, The Observer (14 October 1945), quoted in Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (1980), p. 481
  • Nye devoted his life to peoples of all classes, colours, and creeds. He was at all time a fearless advocate for what he believed to be right and just. He did not hesitate to challenge authority even though he was often subjected to misrepresentation and abuse. His colourful personality, deep social conscience, and brilliant oratory enlivened the British democratic scene. His place in the Labour movement can never adequately be filled.
    • Morgan Phillips, General Secretary of the Labour Party, tribute to Bevan (6 July 1960), quoted in The Times (7 July 1960), p. 16
  • That the parties are so coy in speaking about health is mainly down to Nye Bevan. He made the NHS sacred and untouchable. He may have freed the patient from fear of medical bills, but he has locked the politician in perennial dread of change.
    • Michael Portillo, ‘The Bevan Legacy’, British Medical Journal, Vol. 317, No. 7150 (Jul. 4, 1998), p. 40
  • He had a characteristic not common among politicians and perhaps especially unusual in the self-taught man: he was never satisfied with a debating argument or a particular train of reasoning unless he could relate it to some general principle and inform his contentions with the light which that general principle shed. For a series of years I took part in housing debates where Bevan intervened, and at times I broke a pygmy lance or two against his shield. ... The same thing was to be noticed in all Bevan's interventions: a subject had to be large, it had to have large bearings, it had (if necessary) to be given large bearings, before he could interest himself in it and feel at home with it.
    • Enoch Powell, obituary broadcast for the BBC's Overseas Service (c. July 1960), quoted in Andrew Roth, Enoch Powell: Tory Tribune (1970), p. 132
  • Those who heard Aneurin Bevan command the House of Commons, in his great days, with an eloquence surpassed, if at all, only by Churchill, are reminded by the biographer's quotations how strangely similar those two antagonistic orators were. Their marvellous and often unexpected vocabulary was that of the self-educated; their oratory often approached, and sometimes crossed, the bounds of intemperance; and they were capable of descent from flights of true imagination to depths of bathos. Bevan's style belonged, like Churchill's, to a more spacious parliamentary and political era, already past before he died.
    • Enoch Powell, 'Bevan Agonistes', Listener (11 October 1973), quoted in Reflections of a Statesman: The Writings and Speeches of Enoch Powell (1991), p. 310
  • He was profoundly committed in his attitude to human beings and society, he was empirical about arrangements and institutions. This, I think, would have shown if he had become Prime Minister. What a voice and vision would then have dominated the life of Britain! How many dark places would have been illuminated, how many doubts and dangers would have been dispelled. Our problems would not have been waved away by a magician's wand overnight; but the attempt to solve them would have been rendered meaningful and more exciting. And I believe would have been solved. Wherever our proper realistic level in the modern world lies, Nye would have seen it, and could have led us there. We would have gone eyes open, tails up, ready to make it not a retreat but a triumph. ... The first task of political leadership is to get men to lift up their hearts. Churchill did it in 1940. Weizmann did it time and time again. Nye would have done it for Britain today.
  • A man who was good in the essential sense of the word and that is the goodness of abounding charity.
    • Donald Soper, speech at the memorial service for Bevan in Ebbw Vale (15 July 1960), quoted in The Times (16 July 1960), p. 4
  • Millions of trade unionists will mourn the loss of Aneurin Bevan, a man who brought exceptional gifts of imagination and eloquence, courage and vigour into the service of the Labour movement.
    • Vincent Tewson, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, tribute to Bevan (6 July 1960), quoted in The Times (7 July 1960), p. 16
  • We come here now in our smart clothes and our pretty hats, but it was not like that when I first heard him speak up here in the thirties. Those are the days that we shall remember him most and we shall think of him as the great man who stuck up for the poor.
    • Margaret Williams, chair of Rhymney Trades Council, at the memorial service for Bevan in Ebbw Vale (15 July 1960), quoted in The Times (16 July 1960), p. 4
  • His friends, and his opponents equally, will remember him not only for his eloquence and passion, his humour, the deep affection he inspired, but perhaps most of all for a sense of vision unrivalled in his generation.
    • Harold Wilson, tribute to Bevan (6 July 1960), quoted in The Times (7 July 1960), p. 16
  • Though he was lazy, he would have been a good Prime Minister, with a rolling sweep of history and a deep love of his country. Unlike Wedgwood Benn, sometimes ridiculously compared to him, he was sensible and willing to make compromises, as he did with the doctors and dentists to get their co-operation in the National Health Service. Nye talked hot air about seizing “the commanding heights of the economy”...but he was too pragmatic to be a keen nationalizer.
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