Ernest Bevin
Overview
 
Ernest Bevin was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

 leader and Labour politician
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

. He served as general secretary
General secretary
-International intergovernmental organizations:-International nongovernmental organizations:-Sports governing bodies:...

 of the powerful Transport and General Workers' Union
Transport and General Workers' Union
The Transport and General Workers' Union, also known as the TGWU and the T&G, was one of the largest general trade unions in the United Kingdom and Ireland - where it was known as the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union - with 900,000 members...

 from 1922 to 1945, as Minister of Labour
Secretary of State for Employment
The Secretary of State for Employment was a position in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom. In 1995 it was merged with Secretary of State for Education to make the Secretary of State for Education and Employment...

 in the war-time coalition government
Coalition Government 1940-1945
Members of the War Cabinet are in bold face.-Source:* D. Butler and G. Butler, Twentieth Century British Political Facts 1900–2000....

, and as Foreign Secretary in the post-war Labour Government
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

.
Bevin was born in the village of Winsford
Winsford, Somerset
Winsford is a village and civil parish in Somerset, England, located about north-west of Dulverton.It is within the borders of the Exmoor National Park and around south-west of the coastal town of Minehead. The village has two hotels, Karslake House Hotel and the Royal Oak, both dating to before...

 in Somerset
Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, to Diana Bevin who, since 1877, had described herself as a widow. His father is unknown. After his mother's death in 1889, the young Bevin lived with his half-sister's family, moving to Morchard Bishop
Morchard Bishop
Morchard Bishop is a village and civil parish in Mid Devon in the English county of Devon. It has a population of 975, and contains a primary school, two churches, and a playing field with tennis court. Notable past residents include Ernest Bevin....

 in Devon
Devon
Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

.
Quotations

If the workers see themselves faced with defeat through starvation, they will prefer to go down fighting rather than fainting — and whether or not we leaders agree.

New York World, 10 May 1926

The most conservative man in the world is the British Trade Unionist when you want to change him.

Report of the Proceedings of the Trade Union Congress, 1927

The kind of middle-class mentality which actuates both those responsible for strategy and government has little knowledge of the new psychology and organizing ability of the totalitarian States. The forces we are fighting are governed neither by the old strategy nor follow the old tactics.

"Complacent Conduct of the War", The Times, 3 May 1940, p. 3.

The fact of it is that all of us agreed to save 6d. in the Income Tax by breaking up the Army in peace-time and not having it prepared when war broke out...I will never be a party to it again.

Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 376, col. 1336.

So long as I have any power at all I will never be a party to treating the Army in the future as it has been treated in the past. They broke up in peace-time the very foundations of the Army structure, and expected to build it up during war-time with the enemy at the gates.

Western Daily Press, 30 March 1942.

There should be a study of a house directly elected by the people of the world to whom the nations are accountable.

House of Commons speech, 23 November 1945.

Encyclopedia
Ernest Bevin was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

 leader and Labour politician
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

. He served as general secretary
General secretary
-International intergovernmental organizations:-International nongovernmental organizations:-Sports governing bodies:...

 of the powerful Transport and General Workers' Union
Transport and General Workers' Union
The Transport and General Workers' Union, also known as the TGWU and the T&G, was one of the largest general trade unions in the United Kingdom and Ireland - where it was known as the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union - with 900,000 members...

 from 1922 to 1945, as Minister of Labour
Secretary of State for Employment
The Secretary of State for Employment was a position in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom. In 1995 it was merged with Secretary of State for Education to make the Secretary of State for Education and Employment...

 in the war-time coalition government
Coalition Government 1940-1945
Members of the War Cabinet are in bold face.-Source:* D. Butler and G. Butler, Twentieth Century British Political Facts 1900–2000....

, and as Foreign Secretary in the post-war Labour Government
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

.

Early life

Bevin was born in the village of Winsford
Winsford, Somerset
Winsford is a village and civil parish in Somerset, England, located about north-west of Dulverton.It is within the borders of the Exmoor National Park and around south-west of the coastal town of Minehead. The village has two hotels, Karslake House Hotel and the Royal Oak, both dating to before...

 in Somerset
Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, to Diana Bevin who, since 1877, had described herself as a widow. His father is unknown. After his mother's death in 1889, the young Bevin lived with his half-sister's family, moving to Morchard Bishop
Morchard Bishop
Morchard Bishop is a village and civil parish in Mid Devon in the English county of Devon. It has a population of 975, and contains a primary school, two churches, and a playing field with tennis court. Notable past residents include Ernest Bevin....

 in Devon
Devon
Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

. He had little formal education, having briefly attended two village schools and then Hayward's School, Crediton
Crediton
Crediton is a town and civil parish in the Mid Devon district of Devon in England. It stands on the A377 Exeter to Barnstaple road at the junction with the A3072 road to Tiverton, about north west of Exeter. It has a population of 6,837...

, starting in 1890 and leaving in 1892. He later recalled being asked as a child to read the newspaper aloud for the benefit of adults in his family who were illiterate. At the age of eleven, he went to work as a labourer, then as a lorry driver in Bristol
Bristol
Bristol is a city, unitary authority area and ceremonial county in South West England, with an estimated population of 433,100 for the unitary authority in 2009, and a surrounding Larger Urban Zone with an estimated 1,070,000 residents in 2007...

, where he joined the Bristol Socialist Society
Bristol Socialist Society
The Bristol Socialist Society was a political organisation in South West England.The group originated in 1885 as a local affiliate of the Social Democratic Federation. However, in 1886, it instead affiliated to the Socialist Union...

. In 1910 he became secretary of the Bristol branch of the Dockers' Union, and in 1914 he became a national organiser for the union.

Bevin was a physically huge man, strong and by the time of his political prominence very heavy. He spoke with a strong West Country accent, so much so that on one occasion listeners at Cabinet had difficulty in deciding whether he was talking about "Hugh and Nye (Gaitskell
Hugh Gaitskell
Hugh Todd Naylor Gaitskell CBE was a British Labour politician, who held Cabinet office in Clement Attlee's governments, and was the Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition from 1955, until his death in 1963.-Early life:He was born in Kensington, London, the third and youngest...

 and Bevan)" or "you and I". He had developed his oratorical skills from his time as a Baptist
Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 laypreacher, which he had given up as a profession to become a full-time labour activist.

Bevin was married and had a daughter.

Transport and General Workers Union

In 1922 Bevin was one of the founding leaders of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), which soon became Britain's largest trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

. Upon his election as the union's general secretary
General secretary
-International intergovernmental organizations:-International nongovernmental organizations:-Sports governing bodies:...

, he became one of country's leading labour leaders, and their strongest advocate within the Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

. Politically, he was on the right-wing of the Labour Party, strongly opposed to communism
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 and direct action - allegedly partly due to anti-Semitic paranoia and seeing communism as a 'Jewish plot' against Britain. He took part in the British General Strike in 1926, but without enthusiasm.

Bevin had no great faith in parliamentary politics, but had nevertheless been a member of the Labour Party from the time of its formation. He had poor relations with the first Labour Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

, Ramsay MacDonald
Ramsay MacDonald
James Ramsay MacDonald, PC, FRS was a British politician who was the first ever Labour Prime Minister, leading a minority government for two terms....

, and was not surprised when MacDonald formed a National Government with the Conservatives
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 during the economic crisis of 1931, for which MacDonald was expelled from the Labour Party. Bevin was a pragmatic trade unionist who believed in getting material benefits for his members through direct negotiations, with strike action
Strike action
Strike action, also called labour strike, on strike, greve , or simply strike, is a work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances. Strikes became important during the industrial revolution, when mass labour became...

 to be used as a last resort.

Foreign policy interests

During the 1930s, with the Labour Party split and weakened, Bevin co-operated with the Conservative-dominated government on practical issues. But during this period he became increasingly involved in foreign policy. He was a firm opponent of fascism
Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 and of British appeasement
Appeasement
The term appeasement is commonly understood to refer to a diplomatic policy aimed at avoiding war by making concessions to another power. Historian Paul Kennedy defines it as "the policy of settling international quarrels by admitting and satisfying grievances through rational negotiation and...

 of the fascist powers. In 1935, arguing that Italy should be punished by sanctions for her recent invasion of Abyssinia, he made a blistering attack on the pacifists
Pacifism
Pacifism is the opposition to war and violence. The term "pacifism" was coined by the French peace campaignerÉmile Arnaud and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress inGlasgow in 1901.- Definition :...

 in the Labour Party, accusing the Labour leader George Lansbury
George Lansbury
George Lansbury was a British politician, socialist, Christian pacifist and newspaper editor. He was a Member of Parliament from 1910 to 1912 and from 1922 to 1940, and leader of the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935....

 at the Party Conference of "hawking his conscience around" asking to be told what to do with it.

Lansbury resigned and was replaced as leader by his deputy Clement Attlee
Clement Attlee
Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, KG, OM, CH, PC, FRS was a British Labour politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951, and as the Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955...

, who along with Lansbury and Stafford Cripps
Stafford Cripps
Sir Richard Stafford Cripps was a British Labour politician of the first half of the 20th century. During World War II he served in a number of positions in the wartime coalition, including Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Minister of Aircraft Production...

 had been one of only three Labour Cabinet Ministers to be re-elected at the General Election in 1931. After the November 1935 General Election Herbert Morrison
Herbert Morrison
Herbert Stanley Morrison, Baron Morrison of Lambeth, CH, PC was a British Labour politician; he held a various number of senior positions in the Cabinet, including Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister.-Early life:Morrison was the son of a police constable and was born in...

, newly returned to Parliament, challenged Attlee for the leadership but was defeated. In later years Bevin gave Attlee (whom he privately referred to as "little Clem") staunch support, especially in 1947 when Herbert Morrison
Herbert Morrison
Herbert Stanley Morrison, Baron Morrison of Lambeth, CH, PC was a British Labour politician; he held a various number of senior positions in the Cabinet, including Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister.-Early life:Morrison was the son of a police constable and was born in...

 and Stafford Cripps
Stafford Cripps
Sir Richard Stafford Cripps was a British Labour politician of the first half of the 20th century. During World War II he served in a number of positions in the wartime coalition, including Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Minister of Aircraft Production...

 led further intrigue against Attlee.

Wartime Minister of Labour

In 1940 Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 formed an all-party coalition government to defend the country in the crisis of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. As part of this he appointed Bevin to the position of Minister for Labour and National Service
Secretary of State for Employment
The Secretary of State for Employment was a position in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom. In 1995 it was merged with Secretary of State for Education to make the Secretary of State for Education and Employment...

, although Bevin was not actually an MP at the time. To clear up this constitutional anomaly a parliamentary position was hurriedly found for him and Bevin was elected unopposed to the House of Commons as Member of Parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 (MP) for the London constituency of Wandsworth Central
Wandsworth Central (UK Parliament constituency)
Wandsworth Central was a parliamentary constituency in the Wandsworth district of South London. It returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom...

.

The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act gave Bevin complete control over the labour force and the allocation of manpower, and he was determined to use this unprecedented authority not just to help win the war but also to strengthen the bargaining position of trade unions in the postwar future. Bevin once quipped: "They say Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone FRS FSS was a British Liberal statesman. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served as Prime Minister four separate times , more than any other person. Gladstone was also Britain's oldest Prime Minister, 84 years old when he resigned for the last time...

 was at the Treasury
Treasury
A treasury is either*A government department related to finance and taxation.*A place where currency or precious items is/are kept....

 from 1860 until 1930. I'm going to be at the Ministry of Labour
Ministry of Labour
The Ministry of Labour was a British civil service department established by the New Ministries and Secretaries Act 1916. It was renamed the Employment Department in 1988, and finally abolished in 1995...

 from 1940 until 1990." Given that the industrial settlement he introduced remained largely unaltered by successive postwar administrations until the reforms of Margaret Thatcher's government in the mid-1980s, this was a prescient remark.

During the war Bevin was responsible for diverting nearly 48,000 military conscripts to work in the coal industry. These workers became known as the Bevin Boys
Bevin Boys
Bevin Boys were young British men conscripted to work in the coal mines of the United Kingdom, from December 1943 until 1948. Chosen at random from conscripts but also including volunteers, nearly 48,000 Bevin Boys performed vital but largely unrecognised service in the mines, many of them...

. He also drew up the demobilisation
Demobilization of the British Armed Forces after World War II
thumb|right|upright|A page from the official demobilization handbook, Release and Resettlement, which allowed British servicemen to calculate their 'release group number.'...

 scheme that ultimately returned millions of military personnel and civilian war workers back into the peacetime economy. Bevin remained Minister of Labour until 1945 when Labour left the Coalition government. On V-E Day he stood next to Churchill looking down on the crowd on Whitehall.

Foreign Secretary

After the 1945 general election, Attlee had it in mind to appoint Bevin as Chancellor
Chancellor of the Exchequer
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the title held by the British Cabinet minister who is responsible for all economic and financial matters. Often simply called the Chancellor, the office-holder controls HM Treasury and plays a role akin to the posts of Minister of Finance or Secretary of the...

 and Hugh Dalton
Hugh Dalton
Edward Hugh John Neale Dalton, Baron Dalton PC was a British Labour Party politician who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1945 to 1947, when he was implicated in a political scandal involving budget leaks....

 as Foreign Secretary
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, commonly referred to as the Foreign Secretary, is a senior member of Her Majesty's Government heading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and regarded as one of the Great Offices of State...

, but ultimately changed his mind and swapped them round. Some claim that he was persuaded by King George VI
George VI of the United Kingdom
George VI was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death...

 to do so; but others note that whoever was Chancellor would have to work with Herbert Morrison
Herbert Morrison
Herbert Stanley Morrison, Baron Morrison of Lambeth, CH, PC was a British Labour politician; he held a various number of senior positions in the Cabinet, including Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister.-Early life:Morrison was the son of a police constable and was born in...

, with whom Bevin did not get on. Indeed, it was once noted that Bevin, on overhearing a (supposed) private conversation in which somebody commented "the trouble with Herbert [Morrison] is that he is his own worst enemy", immediately responded with a booming "Not while I'm alive he ain't!" (Some sources say this was about Nye Bevan, whom he also disliked)

One anecdote from the period after Labour's 1945 landslide election victory was that, late on a Friday afternoon, he was left a number of red ministerial boxes
Red box (government)
The term "Red box" informally refers to a ministerial box used by ministers in the British government to carry their documents. Similar in appearance to a briefcase, they are primarily used to hold and transport official departmental papers from place to place.-Ministerial box:The design of...

, with a note inviting him to take the boxes home to read over the weekend if he so desired. On the following Monday morning the civil servants found the boxes as they had left them on the previous Friday with the note amended with the words "a kind thought, but sadly erroneous". At that time most diplomats were recruited from public schools, and it was said of Bevin - as a compliment to the respect which he had earned - that it was hard to imagine him filling any other job in the Foreign Office except perhaps that of an old and truculent lift attendant.

Bevin became Foreign Secretary at a time when Britain was almost bankrupt as a result of the war and yet was still maintaining a huge air force and conscript army, in an attempt to remain a global power. The effort of paying for all this - and for the US loans - required austerity at home in order to maximise export earnings, while Britain's colonies and other client states were required to keep their reserves in pounds as "sterling balances". Britain was still closely allied to France - with whom the Dunkirk Treaty
Dunkirk Treaty
The Treaty of Dunkirk was signed on 4 March 1947, between France and the United Kingdom in Dunkirk as a Treaty of Alliance and Mutual Assistance against a possible German attack in the aftermath of World War II. The Dunkirk Treaty entered into force on 8 September 1947 and it preceded the Treaty...

 was signed in 1947 - and both countries continued to be treated as major partners at international summits alongside the USA and USSR until Paris in 1960. Broadly speaking, all this remained Britain's foreign policy until the late 1950s, when the humiliation of the 1956 Suez Crisis
Suez Crisis
The Suez Crisis, also referred to as the Tripartite Aggression, Suez War was an offensive war fought by France, the United Kingdom, and Israel against Egypt beginning on 29 October 1956. Less than a day after Israel invaded Egypt, Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to Egypt and Israel,...

 and the economic revival of continental Europe, now united as the "Common Market", caused a reappraisal.

Bevin was unsentimental about the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 in places where the growth of nationalism had made direct rule no longer practical, and was part of the Cabinet which approved a speedy British withdrawal from India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 in 1947, and from other territories. Yet at this stage Britain still maintained a network of client states in the Middle East (Egypt until the early 1950s, Iraq and Jordan until the late 1950s), major bases in such places as Cyprus and Suez (until 1954) and expected to remain in control of parts of Africa for many more decades, Bevin approving the construction of a huge new base in East Africa.

Bevin, a determined anti-Communist
Anti-communism
Anti-communism is opposition to communism. Organized anti-communism developed in reaction to the rise of communism, especially after the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the beginning of the Cold War in 1947.-Objections to communist theory:...

, was a strong supporter of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 in the early years of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 and a leading advocate for British involvement in the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

. Two of the key institutions of the post-war world, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Marshall Plan
Marshall Plan
The Marshall Plan was the large-scale American program to aid Europe where the United States gave monetary support to help rebuild European economies after the end of World War II in order to combat the spread of Soviet communism. The plan was in operation for four years beginning in April 1948...

 for aid to post-war Europe, were in considerable part the result of Bevin's efforts during these years. This policy, little different from that of the Conservatives ("Hasn't Anthony Eden
Anthony Eden
Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG, MC, PC was a British Conservative politician, who was Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957...

 grown fat?" as wags had it), was a source of frustration to some backbench Labour MPs, who early in the 1945 Parliament formed a "Keep Left
Keep Left (pamphlet)
Keep Left was a pamphlet published in the United Kingdom in 1947 by the New Statesman, written by Michael Foot, Richard Crossman and Ian Mikardo that advocated a democratic socialist "third force" foreign policy – a socialist Europe acting independently from either the United States or the Soviet...

" group to push for a more Left-Wing foreign policy.

In 1945, Bevin advocated the creation of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly
United Nations Parliamentary Assembly
A United Nations Parliamentary Assembly is a proposed addition to the United Nations System that would allow for participation of member nations' legislators and, eventually, direct election of United Nations parliament members by citizens worldwide...

, saying in the House of Commons that "There should be a study of a house directly elected by the people of the world to whom the nations are accountable." He also made a crucial intervention in the cabinet committee GEN 75
Gen 75 Committee
The Gen 75 Committee was a subcommittee of the British Cabinet, convened by Prime Minister Clement Attlee on 29 August 1945. The purpose of the committee was to discuss and establish the British government's nuclear policy...

, insisting that the United Kingdom should commit to developing an atomic bomb whatever the cost, because of the effect on Britain's international standing; Bevin's support was said to have swung the meeting.

Bevin was said to have defined his foreign policy as "to be able to take a ticket at Victoria station and go anywhere I damn well please!"

Bevin, Palestine and Israel

Bevin was Foreign Secretary during the period when the Mandate of Palestine ended and the State of Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 was created. Bevin failed to secure the stated British objectives in this area of foreign policy, which included a peaceful settlement of the situation and the avoidance of involuntary population transfers.

Regarding Bevin's handling of the Middle East situation, at least one commentator, David Leitch, has suggested that Bevin lacked diplomatic finesse. Leitch argued that Bevin tended to make a bad situation worse by making ill-chosen abrasive remarks. Bevin was undeniably a plain-spoken man, some of whose remarks struck many as insensitive. Jewish critics have accused him of being anti-Semitic. He earned the hatred of Zionists by refusing to remove limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine in the aftermath of the war. According to historian Howard Sachar
Howard Sachar
Howard Morley Sachar is an American historian. He is Professor Emeritus of History and International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and the author of 16 books, as well as numerous articles in scholarly journals, on the subjects of Middle Eastern and Modern European...

, his political foe, Richard Crossman
Richard Crossman
Richard Howard Stafford Crossman OBE was a British author and Labour Party politician who was a Cabinet Minister under Harold Wilson, and was the editor of the New Statesman. A prominent socialist intellectual, he became one of the Labour Party's leading Zionists and anti-communists...

, a fellow Labour Party member of parliament and a pro-Zionist member of the post-war Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry into the Problems of European Jewry and Palestine
Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry
The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry was a joint British and American attempt in 1946 to agree upon a policy as regards the admission of Jews to Palestine. The Committee was tasked to consult representative Arabs and Jews on the problems of Palestine, and to make other recommendations 'as may be...

, characterised his outlook during the dying days of the Mandate as "corresponding roughly with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a fraudulent, antisemitic text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for achieving global domination. It was first published in Russia in 1903, translated into multiple languages, and disseminated internationally in the early part of the twentieth century...

", the notorious hoax document which was designed to inflame anti-Semitic prejudice. In Sachar's account, Crossman intimated that "the main points of Bevin's discourse were ... that the Jews had successfully organised a conspiracy against Britain and against him personally." However, the Bevin biographer, Alan Bullock
Alan Bullock
Alan Louis Charles Bullock, Baron Bullock , was a British historian, who wrote an influential biography of Adolf Hitler and many other works.-Early life and career:...

, rejected suggestions that Bevin was motivated by personal anti-Semitism.

Britain's economic weakness, and its dependence on the financial support of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 (Britain had received a large American loan in 1946, and mid-1947 was to see the launching of the Marshall Plan
Marshall Plan
The Marshall Plan was the large-scale American program to aid Europe where the United States gave monetary support to help rebuild European economies after the end of World War II in order to combat the spread of Soviet communism. The plan was in operation for four years beginning in April 1948...

), left him little alternative but to yield to American pressure over Palestine policy.

At the reconvened London Conference
London Conference
The London Conference could refer to several conferences:* London Conference of 1832* London Conference of 1838–39* London Conference of 1852* London Conference of 1866* London Conference of 1881 * London Conference of 1908...

 in January 1947, the Jewish negotiators were only prepared to accept partition and the Arab negotiators only a unitary state (which would automatically have had an Arab majority). Neither would accept limited autonomy under overall British rule. When no agreement could be reached, Bevin threatened to hand the problem over to the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

. The threat failed to move either side, the Jewish representatives because they believed that Bevin was bluffing and the Arabs because they believed that their cause would prevail before the General Assembly
United Nations General Assembly
For two articles dealing with membership in the General Assembly, see:* General Assembly members* General Assembly observersThe United Nations General Assembly is one of the five principal organs of the United Nations and the only one in which all member nations have equal representation...

. Bevin accordingly announced that he would "ask the UN to take the Palestine question into consideration." A week later, the strategic rationale supporting Britain's retaining a presence in Palestine was removed when the intention to withdraw from India in August of that year was announced. The decision to allow the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 to determine Palestine's future was formalised by the Attlee government's public declaration in February 1947 that Britain's Mandate in Palestine had become "unworkable." Of the UN partition plan which resulted, Bevin commented: "The majority proposal is so manifestly unjust to the Arabs that it is difficult to see how we could reconcile it with our conscience." During the remainder of the Mandate, fighting between the Jewish and Arab communities intensified. The end of the Mandate and Britain's final withdrawal from Palestine was marked by the founding of the State of Israel and the start of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War
1948 Arab-Israeli War
The 1948 Arab–Israeli War, known to Israelis as the War of Independence or War of Liberation The war commenced after the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine and the creation of an independent Israel at midnight on 14 May 1948 when, following a period of civil war, Arab armies invaded...

, when five Arab states intervened in the inter-communal fighting. The Arab armies were led by the state with that position which was most effective, Jordan, which, with British assent, had reached a secret agreement with the Israelis which limited the fighting between their two countries. The war ended with Israel, in addition to the territory assigned by the UN for the creation of a Jewish state, also in control of much of the Mandate territory which had been assigned by the UN for the creation of an Arab state. The remainder was divided between Jordan and Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of, overwhelmingly Arab, civilians had become displaced
1948 Palestinian exodus
The 1948 Palestinian exodus , also known as the Nakba , occurred when approximately 711,000 to 725,000 Palestinian Arabs left, fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the Civil War that preceded it. The exact number of refugees is a matter of dispute...

.

Bevin was infuriated by attacks on British troops carried out by the more extreme of the Jewish militant groups, the Irgun
Irgun
The Irgun , or Irgun Zevai Leumi to give it its full title , was a Zionist paramilitary group that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948. It was an offshoot of the earlier and larger Jewish paramilitary organization haHaganah...

 and Lehi
Lehi (group)
Lehi , commonly referred to in English as the Stern Group or Stern Gang, was a militant Zionist group founded by Avraham Stern in the British Mandate of Palestine...

, commonly known as the Stern Gang. The Haganah
Haganah
Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organization in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine from 1920 to 1948, which later became the core of the Israel Defense Forces.- Origins :...

 restricted itself to less direct attacks, further restricted after the King David Hotel bombing
King David Hotel bombing
The King David Hotel bombing was an attack carried out by themilitant right-wing Zionist underground organization Irgun on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946...

 (for which it initially gave its authorisation; later, but unknown to the Irgun, withdrawn) to illegal immigration activities.

Bevin negotiated the "Portsmouth Treaty" with Iraq (signed on 15 January 1948), which, according to then-Iraqi foreign minister Muhammad Fadhel al-Jamali, was accompanied by a British undertaking to withdraw from Palestine in such a fashion as to provide for swift Arab occupation of all its territory."

In 1946, an Irgun
Irgun
The Irgun , or Irgun Zevai Leumi to give it its full title , was a Zionist paramilitary group that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948. It was an offshoot of the earlier and larger Jewish paramilitary organization haHaganah...

 plan to assassinate Bevin and other British politicians was foiled by the security service
Security agency
A security agency is a governmental organization which conducts intelligence activities for the internal security of a nation. They are the domestic cousins of foreign intelligence agencies...

, MI5
MI5
The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 , is the United Kingdom's internal counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its core intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service focused on foreign threats, Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence...

.

Later life

His health failing, Bevin reluctantly allowed himself to be moved to become Lord Privy Seal
Lord Privy Seal
The Lord Privy Seal is the fifth of the Great Officers of State in the United Kingdom, ranking beneath the Lord President of the Council and above the Lord Great Chamberlain. The office is one of the traditional sinecure offices of state...

 in March 1951. 'I am neither a Lord, nor a Privy, nor a Seal', he is said to have commented. He died the following month, still holding the key to his red box
Red box (government)
The term "Red box" informally refers to a ministerial box used by ministers in the British government to carry their documents. Similar in appearance to a briefcase, they are primarily used to hold and transport official departmental papers from place to place.-Ministerial box:The design of...

. His ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

.

When, on Stafford Cripps
Stafford Cripps
Sir Richard Stafford Cripps was a British Labour politician of the first half of the 20th century. During World War II he served in a number of positions in the wartime coalition, including Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Minister of Aircraft Production...

's death in 1952, Attlee (by this time Leader of the Opposition) was invited to broadcast a tribute by the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

, he was looked after by announcer Frank Phillips. After the broadcast, Phillips took Attlee to the hospitality room for a drink and in order to make conversation said:

‘I suppose you will miss Sir Stafford, sir’.

Attlee fixed him with his eye: ’Did you know Ernie Bevin?'

‘I have met him, sir,’ Phillips replied.

‘There’s the man I miss’.

A statue commemorating Bevin stands opposite Devon Mansions
Devon Mansions
Devon Mansions are a set of five residential mansion block buildings situated along the south side of Tooley Street in Bermondsey, London. The buildings are located within the London Borough of Southwark and are included in both the Tower Bridge and Tooley Street Conservation Areas.- History...

 and the former St Olave's Grammar School
St Olave's Grammar School
St Olave's and St Saviour's Grammar School is a super-selective boys' secondary school in Orpington, Greater London, England. The school is consistently one of the top achieving state schools in the UK and it was The Sunday Times State School of the Year in 2008...

 in Tooley Street
Tooley Street
Tooley Street is a road in South London connecting London Bridge to St Saviour's Dock; it runs past Tower Bridge on the Southwark side of the River Thames, and forms part of the A200 road. - St Olave :...

, South London.

Legacy

Bevin in office showed the same pragmatic stubbornness that had characterised his years as a trade union leader, and as one of the integral organisers of the Labour Party. Like Churchill, he was an old-fashioned English (as opposed to British) patriot, which was why the two leaders worked well together. But he was also an internationalist, a supporter of the American alliance and of European unity. He saw clearly that Britain's days of imperial greatness were over, something he did not regret, for, in his view, the working class had never benefited from the Empire.

For his critics, his most lasting legacy remains the failure of his Palestine policy.

See also

  • Aneurin Bevan
    Aneurin Bevan
    Aneurin "Nye" Bevan was a British Labour Party politician who was the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 1959 until his death in 1960. The son of a coal miner, Bevan was a lifelong champion of social justice and the rights of working people...

  • Ernest Bevin College
    Ernest Bevin College
    Ernest Bevin College is a specialist college in Tooting, London, England. The school is all-boys for ages 11 through 18, but has a co-educational sixth form. It has about 1173 pupils.-History:...

  • Bevin Boys
    Bevin Boys
    Bevin Boys were young British men conscripted to work in the coal mines of the United Kingdom, from December 1943 until 1948. Chosen at random from conscripts but also including volunteers, nearly 48,000 Bevin Boys performed vital but largely unrecognised service in the mines, many of them...

  • SS Exodus

Further reading

  • Alan Bullock
    Alan Bullock
    Alan Louis Charles Bullock, Baron Bullock , was a British historian, who wrote an influential biography of Adolf Hitler and many other works.-Early life and career:...

    's magisterial three-volume biography Life and Times of Ernest Bevin was re-published in a single-volume abridged version by Politicos Publishing in 2002.
  • Denis MacShane
    Denis MacShane
    Denis MacShane is a British politician, who has been the Member of Parliament for Rotherham since the 1994 by-election and served as the Minister for Europe from 2002 until 2005, as well as being a current Policy Council member for Labour Friends of Israel.On 14 October 2010, it was announced...

     contributed an essay on Bevin to the Dictionary of Labour Biography, Greg Rosen (ed), Politicos Publishing, 2001.

External links

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