Nye Bevan

Aaaargh, the very mention of his name stirs within, the passion only the Welsh can summon. There is a word in Welsh that I cannot pronounce, or spell, or grasp. It is a event that happens when they sing before a Rugby International, at Church Choir or when preparing to take on an enemy, usually English. Nye had it, that fire breathing Welsh dragon, fired by anthracite, defender of the honourable Welsh miner, champion of the working class, hammer of the capitalist enemy. A man who would put fear even into Winston Churchill’s heart. So, he would order his Tory party “Do not debate this man!”

When passion gives way to reflection, Nye Bevan, miner, son of a miner, Union rep for Tredegar at nineteen, he was the man who initiated the jewel in the crown of post-war Britain. The National Health Service. His passion was rights for the working man and an end to class prejudice. He was educated in history, economics, politics and Marxism at Central Labour College in London. Returning to South Wales, there was no work, he was regarded as a trouble maker. He became a Union Rep and organised during the General Strike of 1926, being responsible for handing out strike pay. He became MP for Ebbw Vale, not far from his Tredegar home. Got elected, never in doubt, never defeated.

At Westminster he targeted anyone. David Lloyd-George, Ramsay MacDonald any Tory, anyone who deviated from the text of his democratic socialism. Nye was not a politician, he was a prophet. He had no need of compromise, back-room deals, manipulation or coercion. He dealt in the truth and there was only one.

His vision in the late 1930’s was to defeat fascism and install socialism. Chamberlain took a pounding, eventually he saw the need for Churchill’s leadership. He described the Tories as vermin, not popular with the boss, Clement Atlee. He obviously remained in opposition during the 2nd World War, but his targets were the class bound officer structure of the armed forces and the capitalist advantage for those that manufactured armaments.

But cometh the hour cometh the man. Post-war labour victory led to a job. Minister for Health and Housing. A massive task to start the NHS and rebuild the shattered housing stock. But Nye the Tredegar boy did the first one. Compromising, clearly a new adventure, he stuffed gold in the mouths of the BMA. He allowed Doctors to do private work and got them to accept the NHS. Healthcare, available for all, free at the point of delivery. The reward for the heroes that sacrificed, to defeat the evils of fascism. He proved, healthcare a spiritual and socialist issue, not for profit, but for life. Each industry needs its own philosophy.

He continued in opposition from 1951, but the great Atlee did not see him as a Foreign Secretary. Not surprising, he was no diplomat. Popular down to the working man’s hob nail boots, he opposed nuclear proliferation and the labour party was split in the 1950’s. He died in 1960, at the dawn of an era that could not suit him. But rage and demand, his brand of political prophecy found its mark when he managed one of the greatest political achievements in British history. To start the NHS from the rubble and debt of the 2nd World War.

Ooh Nye boy, come back and save us. One breath from your fire breathing lips, and the Tory vermin would disappear in smoke and ashes!

If we cannot defend his victory, what alternative to a selfish ignorant, arrogant, dying world do we have? As a non-Welshman, words fail me…………………

Come on Wales, will you give up the ball in your own 22. Get up and fight, you may not like us, but by God we need you now!

Conway-Laird (2017)

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