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Lost leaders: Aneurin Bevan

Left-winger too rebellious to lead, but whose legacy is the NHS.

Born in 1897 in South Wales, Aneurin "Nye" Bevan spent his life literally in the pits before joining the Labour Party. He entered Parliament in 1929 as the youngest miner to have been elected to Westminster. However, Bevan was a rebel, and few rebels reach the pinnacle of party politics.

Despite his stammer, Bevan was a brilliant speaker, intellectual and a skilful administrator. He had a reputation as a formidable Commons performer. Never one to shy away from controversy, he used his inaugural speech to attack the political giants of the House, such as Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George.

In the run up to the Second World War, Bevan developed a reputation as a left-wing firebrand unpopular with both the Tories and the Labour leadership. His attacks on Labour's official line led to his expulsion from the party for most of 1939.

He maintained his rebellious role during the war, never ceasing to attack the government's direction of the war effort, even after Labour entered the coalition government in 1940. Bevan's attacks induced Churchill to call him a "squalid nuisance".

Given his reputation it was something of a surprise when Clement Attlee included Bevan in his post-war cabinet, granting him the posts of health and housing. While Bevan assured his place in history when he formed the NHS in 1948 on the back of the Beveridge report, he was moved sideways to the ministry of labour.

Bevan tendered his resignation in 1951 over his dismay at the rightward shift of the Labour Party. His decision splintered the party between those who supported Bevan and those who backed the new chancellor, Hugh Gaitskell, champion of the party's right.

His resignation destroyed any chance of him becoming party leader, but until his death he was one of the Labour movement's most effective and charismatic figures.

Next: Neil Kinnock

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