In a previous article I mentioned that this year marks 120 years since the birth of Aneurin Bevan. The post contained a discussion on the legacies of Bevan and another Welsh political giant, David Lloyd George, and their places within Welsh political tradition. As part of my research into the political thought of Aneurin Bevan, I have been exploring Bevan’s attitudes towards Wales and how Wales as a nation and as a political entity fit within his political philosophy.
There are many different aspects to be explored such as Wales as a ‘nation’, the Welsh language, Welsh culture, devolution and how the claims of Wales fit with Bevan’s conception of a centralised ‘British’ socialist state. Throughout the year I aim to explore these different areas in order to develop a full account of Bevan’s relationship with Wales and its place within his political thought.
An important aspect of my research has been a focus on the importance of power, attempting to elucidate Bevan’s thought through the lens of power. An element of this is the idea of empowerment: “the purpose of getting power is to be able to give it away”. How this idea fits in with Bevan’s conception of power and the state will need to be explored and doing this through his attitudes to Wales is a helpful way to approach it.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the devolution referendum in 1997. As we reflect on the history of devolution and its impact on Welsh political life, I believe that now is a suitable time to explore the place of Wales in Bevan’s political thought and also his legacy in Wales. To some he is a ‘Welsh’ hero and it is interesting to note the different ways he has been invoked by politicians of different political persuasions in recent history.
Take a tweet from Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas in February where he criticised Labour for mentioning Bevan “at any opportunity”.
Labour AMs normally mention Aneurin Bevan at any opportunity so it was a pleasant change for @huw4ogmore to reference Jennie Lee
— Simon Thomas (@SimonThomasAC) February 14, 2017
But it isn’t just Labour invoking Bevan – Simon Thomas and Plaid Cymru are guilty of this too. As I noted in an article after the 2016 Assembly election it was Plaid Cymru who were most frequently referencing Bevan:
“Their 2016 manifesto argued that “Wales now needs to conjure up the spirit of Bevan in reinventing a NHS for tomorrow’s Wales”, pledging to create a health service which would be akin to what Simon Thomas, on the BBC Wales Leaders’ Debate reaction programme, said would be reflective of “Bevan’s original vision of an NHS that was locally managed, locally run and locally responsible”
He also referred to Bevan when taking on Cabinet Secretary for Health Vaughan Gething before the election.
Simon Thomas is not the only one invoking Bevan – these examples just highlight how Bevan is a popular reference for politicians of different political parties. Even Jeremy Hunt likes to mention Bevan!
Different themes will be explored throughout the year with certain events being highlighted such as the Welsh Day debate in 1944, the debate over a Secretary of State for Wales and the National Eisteddfod in 1958. By looking at key events, I hope to construct the development of Bevan’s attitude towards Wales.
Of course the political makeup of the UK today is different to Bevan’s day. Devolution has changed the political landscape significantly, with Brexit set to change it even further. But perhaps looking at a figure such as Aneurin Bevan can help in trying to make sense of changing attitudes towards devolution to where we are today and where we are going.
The first article will appear in a few weeks and will focus on Bevan’s contribution to the first ‘Welsh Day’ debate in the House of Commons. If in the meantime you have suggestions for articles please comment or get in touch!