Ernest Bevin

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Ernest Bevin (9 March 1881 – 14 April 1951) was a British Trade Unionist and politician best known for his service as Minister of Labour in the war-time coalition, and as Foreign Secretary in the post-war Labour government. With a working-class westcountry background, he had little formal education but rose to prominence through his trade union work; he was the guiding force behind the formation of the Transport and General Workers Union and was its General Secretary from 1922 to 1940.


  • 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
    • Message to the American Federation of Labor appealing for help in the General Strike.
  • 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
    • Speech to the TUC General Council, 8 September 1927.
  • It is placing the Executive and the Movement in an absolutely wrong position to be hawking your conscience round from body to body asking to be told what you ought to do with it.
    • Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1935
    • Speech to the Labour Party conference, 1 October 1935, criticising George Lansbury. Lansbury, a pacifist, was publicly agonising about the need to confront fascist Italy over Abyssinia; Bevin's speech convinced the conference to back sanctions, and when the vote went against him, Lansbury resigned as Leader of the Labour Party.
  • 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.
    • Speech at Stoke-on-Trent, 1 May 1940.
  • If anyone asks me who was responsible for the British policy leading up to the war, I should, as a Labour man myself, make a confession and say: "All of us". We refused absolutely to face the facts. When the issue came of arming or rearming millions of people in this country...we refused to face the real issue at a critical moment. But what is the good of blaming anybody? We cannot make our action retrospective whatever we do. We have to start from now and try to do the best we can.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 373, col. 1362.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 29 July 1941.
  • 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.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 4 December 1941.
  • 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.
  • We need 720,000 men continuously employed in this industry. This is where you boys come in. Our fighting men will not be able to achieve their purpose unless we get an adequate supply of coal.
    • Hansard HC 6ser vol 449 col 841
    • Speech to recruiting meeting, December 1943. Bevin had introduced a system whereby some men conscripted for National Service would be transferred to working in coal-mining; because of this speech, they were known as 'Bevin boys'.
  • 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.
  • I think that in the little argument going on now in New York and the differences that have arisen there are emerging three very fundamental principles. One is that it is improper to negotiate or attempt to negotiate or attempt to gain concessions by a great Power out of a little Power by means of occupying that country with your forces. It is the tradition — and I am not saying of one or other country only they have done it — but it is nineteenth-century imperialism that really must be left behind, and I believe that a solution will be found and the principle accepted that those of us who represent the great Powers will not do that.
    • "Mr. Bevin on World Politics", The Times, 1 April 1946, p. 4.
    • Speech at Bristol, 30 March 1946, referring to the negotiations over the United Nations Charter.
  • If I may again refer to the different political concepts, there is, I think rather unfortunately, running through all the speeches and writings of our Soviet friends the theory that they alone represent the workers — that they alone are democratic.
    • Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 423, col. 1827.
    • Speech in the House of Commons, 4 June 1946.
  • That won't do at all .. we've got to have this .. I don't mind for myself, but I don't want any other Foreign Secretary of this country to be talked to or at by a Secretary of State in the United States as I have just had in my discussions with Mr Byrnes. We've got to have this thing over here whatever it costs .. We've got to have the bloody Union Jack on top of it.
    • Peter Hennessy, "Cabinets and the Bomb", Oxford University Press 2007, p. 48.
    • Remarks at Cabinet Committee GEN75, 25 October 1946, about the development of the British atomic bomb.


  • They say that Gladstone was at the Treasury from 1860 to 1930. I intend to be Minister of Labour from 1940 to 1990!
  • My policy is to be able to take a ticket at Victoria station and go anywhere I damn well please!
    • Attributed to Bevin in the Spectator, 20 April 1951.
    • Bevin's definition of his foreign policy. Variously quoted as "to be able to buy a ticket at Victoria Station to anywhere I damn please!".
  • If you open that Pandora's Box, you never know what Trojan 'orses will jump out!
  • Not while I'm alive he ain't.
    • Nigel Rees, "Sayings of the Century" (Unwin Hyman, 1987), p. 233
    • Bevin's response to an overheard remark that "Nye is his own worst enemy". Also applied to Herbert Morrison and Emanuel Shinwell.


  • Ernest Bevin had many of the strongest characteristics of the English race. His manliness, his common sense, his rough simplicity, sturdiness and kind heart, easy geniality and generosity, all are qualities which we who live in the southern part of this famous island regard with admiration.
    • "Sir W. Churchill on 'a great englishman'", The Times, 5 November 1953, p. 5
    • Winston Churchill's remarks on unveiling a bust of Bevin in the Foreign Office.
  • Some of us do not think that passports are the same since they were introduced by the words, "We, Ernest Bevin".

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