I started my political life with no clearly formed personal ambition as to what I wanted to be, or where I wanted to go. I leave that nonsense to the writers of romantic biographies. A young miner in a South Wales colliery, my concern was with the one practical question, where does power lie in this particular state of Great Britain, and how can it be attained by the workers? No doubt this is the same question as the one to which the savants of political theory are fond of addressing themselves, but there is a world of difference in the way it shaped itself for young workers like myself. It was no abstract question for us. The circumstances of our lives made it a burning luminous mark of interrogation. Where was power and which the road to it?
from In Place of Fear, 1952
The Communist Manifesto stands in a class by itself in Socialist literature. No indictment of the social order ever written can rival it. The largeness of its conception, its profound philosophy and its sure grasp of history, its aphorisms and its satire, all these make it a classic of literature, while the note of passionate revolt which pulses through it, no less than its critical appraisement of the forces of revolt, make it for all rebels an inspiration and a weapon.
on the Communist Manifesto, in Plebs magazine, 1921
I do not represent the big bosses at the top. I represent the people at the bottom, the individual men and women … This Regulation is the enfranchisement of the corporate society and the disfranchisement of the individual.
House of Commons, 28 April 1944, speaking against a proposal to limit the right to strike
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.
speech at Blackpool, 24 May 1945
The eyes of the world are turning to Great Britain. We now have the moral leadership of the world and before many years we shall have people coming here as to a modern Mecca, learning from us in the twentieth century as they learned from us in the seventeenth century.
speech at Manchester, 4 July 1948
What is Toryism but organised spivvery? … No amount of cajolery can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party … So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.
the same speech at Manchester, 4 July 1948
The language of priorities is the religion of Socialism … The argument is about power … because only by the possession of power can you get the priorities correct.
speech at Labour Party Conference, Blackpool, 8 June 1949
Discontent arises from a knowledge of the possible, as contrasted with the actual.
from In Place of Fear, 1952
We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down.
quoted in the Observer, 6 December 1953
I am not going to spend any time whatsoever in attacking the Foreign Secretary … If we complain about the tune, there is no reason to attack the monkey when the organ grinder is present.
House of Commons, 16 May 1957: ‘the monkey’ was Selwyn Lloyd, Foreign Secretary, ‘the organ grinder’ Prime Minister Anthony Eden
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 Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber … You call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm.
speech at Labour Party Conference, Brighton, 3 October 1957
I read the newspapers avidly. It is my one form of continuous fiction.
quoted in The Times, 29 March 1960
I stuffed their mouths with gold.
referring to consultants during the formation of the National Health Service
What Bevan said about…
The worst thing I can say about democracy is that it has tolerated the Right Honourable Gentleman for four and a half years.
House of Commons, 23 July 1929
He has the lucidity which is a by-product of a fundamentally sterile mind … He does not have to struggle, as Churchill has for example, with the crowded pulsations of a fecund imagination. On the contrary he is almost devoid of imagination … Listening to a speech by Chamberlain is like paying a visit to Woolworth’s: everything in its place and nothing above sixpence.
quoted in Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan, volume 2 (1975)
He is a man suffering from petrified adolescence.
He does not talk the language of the twentieth century but that of the eighteenth. He is still fighting Blenheim all over again. His only answer to a difficult situation is send a gun-boat.
I know that the right kind of leader for the Labour Party is a 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.
interview with Robin Day, 28 April 1959; Bevan later denied that the passage referred to Gaitskell
I cannot possibly allow it to be thought that Gaitskell, who is a product of the public school [Winchester], … is the natural representative of the industrial workers of Great Britain.
The Prime Minister has an absolute genius for putting flamboyant labels on empty luggage.
…And what they said about Bevan
A Bollinger Bolshevik … a ritzy Robespierre.
In place of fear
The Minister for Disease.
He is one of the few people I would sit still and listen to.
He will be just as great a curse to this country in peace as he was a squalid nuisance in time of war.
Just when we were beginning to win the match, our outside-left has scored against his own side.
when the Bevanites were pressing for a radical left-wing agenda following election defeat in 1951
Nye wasn’t cut out to be a leader; he was cut out to be a prophet.
He keeps prophesying the end of the capitalist system, and is prepared to play any part in its burial except that of mute.
Nye was born old and died young.
The greatest parliamentary orator since Charles James Fox.
The astonishing fact is that Bevan’s vision has stood both the test of time and the test of change unimaginable in his day. At the centre of his vision was a National Health Service, and sixty years on his NHS – by surviving, growing and adapting to technological and demographic change – remains at the centre of the life of our nation as a uniquely British creation, and still a uniquely powerful engine of social justice.