Editorial: Bevan and the Labour Party Leadership

Mr. Bevan has declared that what he said and did in the row that caused his censure was “not a challenge to the personal authority and position of Mr. Attlee as leader of the Party. Differences are on policy and only policy.” (Daily Herald, 12/3/55.) As the Attlee and Bevan standpoints in the H-bomb debate in Parliament on March 2nd differed by only a hairs-breath the statement is surprising; unless he was speaking of policy in general not just the H-bomb issue. And if that was intended to mean that Mr. Bevan does not aspire to the leadership it is hard to reconcile it with his views and behaviour. The Labour Party’s policy and form of organization require a leader, and though the leader does not formulate policy he can and does exercise much influence on the policy votes at annual conference and in the Parliamentary party. Mr. Bevan believes that he has a policy different from that of the Labour Party’s “Right-Wing” (as he now describes it), and his own description of the kind of leader the Labour Party ought to have bears a clear resemblance to himself. What then could be more natural than that he should seek to further his policy, side by side with becoming Party leader? Mr. Bevan, speaking while the Labour Government was still in office but after he had left it, depicted the kind of leaders required. They must, he said, be men of courage, guts and character; not experts or men from the “top drawer of society,” but men “who had spent their lives in the Labour and trade union movement and who not only understood Socialism with their heads but knew it with their hearts.” (From a speech at Cumnock reported in the Manchester Guardian, 18 June, 1951.) From this it seems more than likely that he measured himself for the Party leadership and found it an admirable fit.
The opinion of a leader-writer in the Manchester Guardian (17/3/55) is that the difficulties began when Bevan failed to get the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s job.


“It is just four years since Mr. Bevan began to show his displeasure that he had been passed over when the time came to choose a new Chancellor of the Exchequer. A little later he pranced out of the Labour Government. From that he passed on to organising his private group within the Party, and two and a half years ago was told (by 188 votes in the Parliamentary Party to 51) to disband it and to stop his attacks on his colleagues. Since then the story of the Parliamentary Labour Party has been of one long succession of disturbances connected with Bevanism.”