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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.

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.



  • The Labour Party should oppose the Government arms plan root and branch.
    • Tribune, 19 February 1937.
  • 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
  • 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.


  • You have got 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. 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 German weapons and German technique...I know it is hurtful to our pride, but would it not be possible to put some of these men temporarily in charge of our men in the field?
    • Hansard, House of Commons 5th series, vol. 381, col. 540.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 2 July 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.
  • Apparently some fire-eaters to-day have been saying "Never again must we allow ourselves to get into the same condition of military unprepardness, 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.
  • 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 on 3 July 1948 at the Bellevue Hotel, on eve of the entry into force of the National Health Service.
  • The language of priorities is the religion of socialism.
    • Labour Party Conference, Blackpool 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.


  • There is only one hope for mankind — and that is democratic Socialism.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 487, col. 43.
    • Personal statement on his resignation, House of Commons, 23 April 1951. [1]
  • 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.
    • In Place of Fear (William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1952), p. 167-8.
  • Man must first live before he can live abundantly.
    • In Place of Fear (William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1952), p. 40.
  • Freedom is the by-product of economic surplus.
    • In Place of Fear (William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1952), p. 39.
  • There can be no immaculate conception of socialism.
    • Oft repeated: see John Campbell "Nye Bevan" (Richard Cohen Books, 1997)
  • If freedom is to be saved and enlarged, poverty must be ended. There is no other solution.
    • In Place of Fear, 1952
  • 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.
    • In Place of Fear (William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1952), p. 157.
  • The spectacle therefore afforded us by the United States is one of technical brilliance and social blindness.
    • In Place of Fear (William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1952), p. 162.
  • Soon, if we are not prudent, millions of people will be watching each other starve to death through expensive television sets.
    • "In Place of Fear", p. 192, 1952
  • We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down.
    • In the Observer, 6 December 1953.
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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).
  • I read the newspapers avidly. It is my one form of continuous fiction.
    • Interview in The Times, 29 March 1960.


  • 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 famous 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.
  • He refers to a defeat as if it came from God, but a victory as if it came from himself.


  • 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. This statement was not written down until the Television play about Bevan, 'Food for Ravens' by Trevor Griffiths. Griffiths himself attributes it to Bevan, saying "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 BevanEdit

  • 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 (London: Politico's, 2003), pp. 253–254
  • He was the most hated—if also the most idolized—politician of his time. … in 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."

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