Nye: The Political Life of Aneurin Bevan review – lucid account of a flawed hero | Books | The Guardian

In the pantheon of Labour heroes, indeed among 20th-century politicians as a whole, Aneurin Bevan enjoys one of the foremost places. His towering achievement was the creation of the National Health Service, which he drove through in the teeth of bitter opposition from both the medical profession and the Tories. To this day his legacy – a health service available to all, free at the point of use – is the one part of the postwar consensus that has survived more or less intact the ravages of Thatcherism and the global market.

But all great men have their flaws and, as this lucid, well-researched biography concedes, Bevan’s were…

Source: Nye: The Political Life of Aneurin Bevan review – lucid account of a flawed hero | Books | The Guardian

New Statesman | “Hunger, filth, fear and death”: remembering life before the NHS

Originally posted in the New Statesman

Over 90 years ago, I was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, to a working-class family. Poverty was as natural to us as great wealth and power were to the aristocracy of that age. Like his father and grandfather before him, my dad, Albert, eked out a meagre existence as a miner, working hundreds of feet below the surface, smashing the rock face with a pickaxe, searching for coal.

Hard work and poor wages didn’t turn my dad into a radical. They did, however, make him an idealist, because he believed that a fair wage, education, trade unions and universal suffrage were the means to a prosperous democracy. He endured brutal working conditions but they never hardened his spirit against his family or his comrades in the pits. Instead, the harsh grind of work made his soul as gentle as a beast of burden that toiled in desolate fields for the profit of others.

My mother, Lillian, however, was made of sterner stuff. She understood that brass, not love, made the world go round. So when a midwife with a love of gin and carbolic soap delivered me safely on a cold winter’s night in February 1923 into my mum’s exhausted arms, I was swaddled in her rough-and-ready love, which toughened my skin with a harsh affection. I was the first son but I had two elder sisters who had already skinned their knees and elbows in the mad fight to stay alive in the days before the social safety network. Later on, our family would include two half-brothers, after my mother was compelled to look for a more secure provider than my dad during the Great Depression.

By the time I was weaned from my mother’s breast, I had begun to learn the cruel lessons that the world inflicted on its poor. At the age of seven, my eldest sister, Marion, contracted tuberculosis, which was a common and deadly disease for those who lived hand to mouth in early 20th century Britain. Her illness was directly spawned from our poverty, which forced us to live in a series of fetid slums.

Despite being a full-time worker, my dad was always one pay packet away from destitution. Several times, my family did midnight flits and moved from one decre­pit single-bedroom tenement to…

via New Statesman | “Hunger, filth, fear and death”: remembering life before the NHS.

The Salters Return

View from the Mirror

Nearly three years ago when this blog was in its infancy, I wrote a piece about ‘Doctor Salter’s Daydream’ statue; a public sculpture which was sadly stolen (most likely by scrap metal thieves) in November 2011.

The statue of Dr Salter which was stolen in 2011 (photo by jim Linwood) The statue of Dr Salter which was stolen in 2011 (photo by Jim Linwood)

The statue’s theft was all the more cruel considering the background of the man whom it represented; Dr Alfred Salter, a humble Quaker born in Greenwich in 1873.

Aged just 16, Alfred won a scholarship to study medicine at Guy’s Hospital where he proved to be an outstanding student.

Doctor Alfred Salter (image: The Religious Society of Friends in Britain) Doctor Alfred Salter (image: The Religious Society of Friends in Britain)

After qualifying as a doctor, Alfred and his beloved wife, Ada vowed to dedicate themselves to helping London’s poor and set up a practice on Bermondsey’s Jamaica Road, then at the heart…

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