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Daniel Speight

Secret meeting between Morrison and Bevan

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I hope someone can help as I am living in Thailand and do not have easy access to many books covering this period.

I have come accross references on the web to a secret meeting between Herbert Morrison and Aneurin Bevan on a LCC fire boat called the Massey Shaw sometime soon after the war. All the references talk of a meeting about the setting up of the National Health Service. An example is given below.

http://www.thames.org.uk/pages/massey.html

I am not sure why there would be such secrecy. I think these men wouldn't have been that fond of each other. Would it have been some sort horse trading, maybe with Ernie Bevin as a common enemy?

Thanks

Danny

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I have come accross references on the web to a secret meeting between Herbert Morrison and Aneurin Bevan on a LCC fire boat called the Massey Shaw sometime soon after the war. All the references talk of a meeting about the setting up of the National Health Service. An example is given below.

http://www.thames.org.uk/pages/massey.html

I am not sure why there would be such secrecy. I think these men wouldn't have been that fond of each other. Would it have been some sort horse trading, maybe with Ernie Bevin as a common enemy?

The link does not appear to work. I do not know the details of the meeting you refer to. However, I am aware of the clashes between Bevan and right-wing members of the cabinet. This was because Bevan was still a socialist while other members of the cabinet had moved sharply to the right. Recent research has suggested that one of the reasons for this was a result of a CIA plot led by a man called Thomas Braden (see below).

However, Bevan was incorruptible. As Minister of Health he instigated the revolutionary National Insurance Act (1946). It instituted a comprehensive state health service, effective from 5th July 1948. The Act provided for compulsory contributions for unemployment, sickness, maternity and widows' benefits and old age pensions from employers and employees, with the government funding the balance.

The National Insurance Act created the structure of the Welfare State and after the passing of the National Health Service Act in 1948, people in Britain were provided with free diagnosis and treatment of illness, at home or in hospital, as well as dental and ophthalmic services.

American political leaders were very concerned about these developments as they saw this as an example of “socialized medicine”. Thomas Braden, head of International Organizations Division (IOD), used money diverted from the Marshall Plan to bribe left-wing political leaders throughout Europe. The objective of this policy was to control potential radicals and to steer them to the right. Braden later claimed that such measures were necessary in the early 1950s because the Soviet Union operated "immensely powerful" front groups in Europe.

In November, 1954, Braden left the CIA. The work of IOD was revealed in an article published in Ramparts in 1967. Braden replied with I'm Glad the CIA is Immoral, in the Saturday Evening Post. In the article he defended the activities of the IOD. Braden also confessed that the activities of the CIA had to be kept secret from Congress. As he pointed out in the article: "In the early 1950s, when the cold war was really hot, the idea that Congress would have approved many of our projects was about as likely as the John Birch Society's approving Medicare."

In an interview that Braden gave to Granada Television programme, World in Action: The Rise and Fall of the CIA (June, 1975) he explained what he had been up to:

It (CIA) never had to account for the money it spent except to the President if the President wanted to know how much money it was spending. But otherwise the funds were not only unaccountable, they were unvouchered, so there was really no means of checking them - "unvouchered funds" meaning expenditures that don't have to be accounted for.... If the director of CIA wanted to extend a present, say, to someone in Europe - a Labour leader - suppose he just thought, This man can use fifty thousand dollars, he's working well and doing a good job - he could hand it to him and never have to account to anybody… They were handed out for work well performed or in order to perform work well.... Politicians in Europe, particularly right after the war, got a lot of money from the CIA....

Since it was unaccountable, it could hire as many people as it wanted. It never had to say to any committee - no committee said to it - "You can only have so many men." It could do exactly as it pleased. It made preparations therefore for every contingency. It could hire armies; it could buy banks. There was simply no limit to the money it could spend and no limit to the people it could hire and no limit to the activities it could decide were necessary to conduct the war - the secret war.... It was a multinational. Maybe it was one of the first.

Herbert Morrison was in fact on the right of the party. However, he wanted to replace Clement Attlee as prime minister. He plotted against Attlee throughout the 1945-51 period of government. It is possible that he tried to recruit Bevan in an effort to become the new prime minister. I think it highly unlikely that Bevan would have joined this conspiracy. He much preferred Attlee to Morrison.

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Thanks John and sorry about the link. I will try again below.

http://www.thames.org.uk/pages/massey.html

There are few mentions of this meeting, so I guess it wasn't that secret after all, unless all the references are from a single source that is wrong. :)

A better link is at

http://www.adls.org.uk/shipinfo.cfm?id=55&RestTrust=0

which has the following:

In 1947 her original open canvas dodger and screen were replaced with a purpose-built enclosed timber wheelhouse. Another claim to fame came in this year when a secret meeting in the Thames Estuary between Herbert Morrison (Member of Parliament and Chairman of the London County Council) and Aneurin Bevin, MP eventually resulted in the formation of the National Health Service.

A side note on the boat itself. It has a claim to fame for being at Dunkirk, not to put out fires, (it was a London Fire Brigade boat and so under Morrison's control), but to ferry troops off the beaches.

Also in the above quote Bevin should read Bevan.

1947 would have been the year before the National Health Service act. Maybe the oposition of the BMA was scaring some of the cabinet ministers, but still Nye Bevan and Herbert Morrison seem strange bedfellows. I was hoping that one of them would have mentioned it in biographys or such like. Much later, after Atlee retired, Morrison does say that he and Bevan had made a deal for him to become leader in the leadership election which Gaitskell won. I'm guessing Gaitskell was further to the right than Morrison.

Today it's hard to decide what is the right of Labour Party as I heard Tony Benn saying that even Ted Heath was to the left of Tony Blair. :) If we think of Morrison and Ernie Bevin being on the right of the post war party, by today's Labour Party standards they would be extreme left.

I suspect the CIA didn't need to do much with the leading Labour figures as they were strongly anti-Russian anyway, certainly Bevin wasn't wanting to give an inch in the post-war carve-up.

I think if the meeting did take place you are pointing me in the correct direction. Maybe Morrison was trading his support for the National Health Service for future support from the left in any leadership battle. If for any reason Atlee hadn't completed his full term then the fight might have been between Morrison and Ernie Bevin, both of the right, with Nye Bevan and the left being the swing vote.

If, and I might have this totally wrong, Morrison was having an affair with Ellen Wilkinson, would this have made him more acceptable to the left? She died in February 1947 so the date of the meeting could be interesting.

Last note and going back to the quote above, in more than one reference the meeting was said to be in the Thames estuary, that is the boat actually put out in the river and it wasn't just a fleeting visit to a tied up fire boat.

Thanks again for anyone who can dig up something on this meeting.

Danny

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If, and I might have this totally wrong, Morrison was having an affair with Ellen Wilkinson, would this have made him more acceptable to the left? She died in February 1947 so the date of the meeting could be interesting.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUwilkinson.htm

Ellen Wilkinson was indeed having an affair with Herbert Morrison. Even though they were on different wings of the party, Wilkinson did work behind the scenes to get the left to support Morrison against Attlee in 1945. After the election Attlee, appointed Wilkinson as Minister of Education, the first woman in British history to hold the post.

Emanuel Shinwell, the Minister of Fuel and Power, was surprised when he heard of Wilkinson's appointment. "I mentioned to Attlee that a number of plotters had been given jobs. He laughed, perfectly well aware of what had been going on. It is not bad tactics to make one's enemies one's servants."

Wilkinson's plans to increase the school-leaving age to sixteen had to be abandoned when the government decided that the measure would be too expensive. However, she did managed to persuade Parliament to pass the 1946 School Milk Act that gave free milk to all British schoolchildren.

Ellen Wilkinson committed suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates on 6th February, 1947. At the time it was covered up and was reported that she died of natural causes. It is of course extremely unusual for someone to committ suicide while holding power (I do not know of another example of this happening). Her friends say she was depressed because of her failure to bring in all the reforms she believed necessary. Maybe, but very unusual in politics.

There are other possibilities. Did she discover that her lover was taking American money in order to reduce the radicalism of the Labour government? If so, what happened next? Was it depression or murder?

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There are other possibilities. Did she discover that her lover was taking American money in order to reduce the radicalism of the Labour government? If so, what happened next? Was it depression or murder?

Thanks for confirming that affair. I was worried I had the wrong person. The depression over failure to get the school leaving age changed does seem suspect. She sounded like one tough lady. I would have thought that if Morrison did take money it would have been from the city where he did seem to cultivate friends rather than the Americans.

Having said that there seems to have been an almost puritanical dislike of financial corruption amongst those old Labour leaders. Morrison would have had many chances to become rich running the LCC and I don't think he was known as being particularly wealthy.

Was Morrison married at the time do you know? Certainly in today's world it would be hard to keep both the affair and the reason for a suicide quiet. Is it Peter Mendelson who is related to Morrison?

The secret meeting could be interesting when you think that this Labour government was probably the most radical government, right wingers and all, since Cromwell's rump parliament. It certainly puts the more recent Labour ones to shame from Wilson onwards. :) In 1946-7 Morrison and Bevan were two of the four leading players with Atlee and Bevin the others. Gaitskell seems to be a rather gray figure both then and afterwards. Now if we were looking for a CIA man in the party Gaitskell would be a good choice as he certainly helped in the election loss to follow.

Almost midnight Bangkok time so I had better call it a day. Thanks again

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Herbert Morrison was in fact on the right of the party. However, he wanted to replace Clement Attlee as prime minister. He plotted against Attlee throughout the 1945-51 period of government. It is possible that he tried to recruit Bevan in an effort to become the new prime minister. I think it highly unlikely that Bevan would have joined this conspiracy. He much preferred Attlee to Morrison.

This is certainly the case - Bevan didn't much time for Attlee, Morrison or Bevin.

There's another link, although related to Morrison's desire to lead. His 'powerbase' came from his leadership of LCC, as I'm sure we all know. However, the LCC was at that time the single largest health authority in Britain (if one accepts the wartime EMS as a temporary phenomenon). It had developed a range of services that (compared to what existed elsewhere) were already well-renowned. It 'owned' a number of hosptials, largely as it had bailed out institutions in the 1930s whose voluntary donations had dried up, and could not hope to make sufficient from the 'additional benefits' of the insurance schemes then extant.

Just as the BMA were deeply worried about the affects of the NHS on its members income and (effective) control of hospitals, so voluntary hospitals were concerned about 'nationalisation' of their assets. This was also a concern for Morrison. He was unsure that it was right or fair or proper for (i) non-Londoners to benefit from the hospitals of the LCC and (ii) that the government should take them over.

It is likely that some 'deal' if there was one, had much to do with this aspect. I may have been in Bevan's mind that if the LCC get on board (pardon the pun, given where this thread began) it might have made the task of selling the NHS a little easier. Morrison may have been reassured that those people who ran the hospitals pre-1948 would still be in charge through Regional Hospital Boards and Hospital Management Committees. Teaching Hospitals (mainly in London) were left pretty much autonomous. All this is possibly involved in the meeting on the Massey. However much of this structure was in place in the 1946 NHS Act.

Worth noting that 1947 was a very bad year for the Labour Party in office - the awful winter, criticisms of Shinwell over the lack of coal, desperate Balance of Payments problems. If there were to be a successful plot against Attlee, 1947 would have been the year to do it. Thus a secret meeting on an (LCC controlled??) fireboat would probably be a good place to do it.

So in sum, whilst I can see there is potentially an NHS angle to the meeting, I doubt that by 1947 there was much to be debated with the LCC. It is more likely to have had a leadership of the Labour Party agenda.

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Thanks Ed

I have some used books on Bevan and Morrison coming out here next week so hopefully I will find one of them mentions it. If the meeting did take place it would be great to know the date.

I do suspect there was talk on the leadership. The left was in no position to win and the choice would have been Ernie Bevin or Herbert Morrison if Atlee had gone. Who would the left have been less scared of? I suspect they had more fear of Bevin even though Morrison was the witch-hunter.

Danny

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I have some more information from a number of books that arrived here this weekend. I still have no confirmation that the meeting on the Massey Shaw did take place in 1947.

In early 1947 Morrison was in hospital and quite sick. It was while he was in hospital that Ellen Wilkinson killed herself. It seems that after his illness the Parliamentary Labour Party no longer considered him fit enough for the leadership even if still felt he was.

By September of 1947 most of the cabinet thought that Atlee was no longer the right man to be leader. This included Ernie Bevin. Stafford Cripps and Hugh Dalton were trying to organize a putsch and replace Atlee by Ernie Bevin. They asked Morrison for his support which was strange as there was such a strong dislike between the two men. Morrison argued that there should be a meeting of the parliamentary party to elect a new leader, where he could throw his hat in the ring. In the end Bevin refused to support any move to remove Atlee.

George Brown mentions a plot in 1947 in which he took part but that Ernie Bevin jumped all over him for it. Brown was just a parliamentary secretary to Hugh Dalton then so although he gives himself a leading part he was probably only a follower.

Nye Bevan does seem to have been closer to Morrison and his constituency party background rather than Ernie Bevin's trade union background. Both Morrison and Nye Bevan had reason to worry of losing there posts if Ernie Bevin did become leader. I read in one Morrison biography the famous quote by Ernie Bevin of being Morrison's worst enemy was actually aimed at Bevan not Morrison. The meeting does seem a possibility and having it on a Morrison controlled LCC fireboat makes sense.

Regarding Ellen Willkinson's suicide I have seem one reference that it was Morrison who wouldn't allow her education reforms to get through the cabinet. The school leaving age was the most important of these. This must have hurt her very much as for about 10 years she had been campainging for Morrison to be leader and was likely to have been an affair with him.

Although books on Morrison skirt around his relationship with women in todays world there would be a strong suspicion that he had multiple affairs. His first wife cut off any sexual realtionship after the first two years of marriage although they lived together for another thirty years. He tended to stay overnight at the homes of women supporters. He seemed to be most friendly with older women, maybe something to do with his beloved mother dieing early.

Danny

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