Why Nye Bevan and Jennie Lee deserve their blue plaque

NHS history

Yesterday, Lord Neil Kinnock unveiled a blue plaque commemorating Nye Bevan and Jennie Lee on their London home.

The blue plaque

It was 10 years after I first wrote an application to English Heritage asking them to consider one. And it was Jennie Lee’s birthday.

Pulling the chord, Neil praised the lion and lioness of Labour politics in front of a crowd of MPs, Lords, journalists and members.

I was asked to say a few words about why I had made the application as an enthusiastic 16 year old…

At 16, I had contracted meningitis the week before my GCSEs. I was admitted to St George’s Hospital in Tooting.

I lay in a hospital bed, for weeks on end, receiving treatment money quite literally couldn’t buy and care from nurses as loving and attentive as if I was one of their own.

First class care, without having to wait and worry about a first class bill at the end of it.

My family at home were free to worry only about me – not about whether they could fund my healthcare or keep our home.

So when I was discharged I looked into the history of how this wonderful service came to be… and it led me to the inhabitant of the house now adorned with a blue plaque.

The son of a miner from Tredegar, South Wales, who made Britain the envy of the world.

But it also led me to the Labour Party.

Because one man – even with the strength of will Nye had – couldn’t deliver a National Health Service, saving millions from the fear of falling ill, alone.

It needed a Labour government.

We have an NHS and we have the Open University – a wonderful achievement of Jennie Lee’s – because of a crucial combination of principle and pragmatism.

A combination Bevan was famous for.

Yes, he had the highest ideals – a vision for a socialist model of healthcare – but he also knew that to deliver it, Labour needed to win over the whole country.

So my hope for this blue plaque, unlike others, is that it is not a relic of Labour’s glorious past – but instead a reminder – to all those who walk past it and share our values – of what our future could hold.