Politics: Valleys rise to remember king Bevan

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The Independent Online
As delegates converge on Brighton this weekend for new Labour's annual conference, deep in the South Wales valleys, the centenary of the birth of one of the giants of the movement is being celebrated.

A charismatic orator and unswerving socialist, Aneurin Bevan was for 31 years the MP for Tredegar. He set up the National Health Service and left an indelible mark on the political landscape.

Fittingly the first of the commemorations which will run until 15 November - Bevan's birthday - was a memorial lecture by Michael Foot, the successor to Bevan, who died in July 1960, as MP for Ebbw Vale. "He was unique - the number one democratic socialist of the century and an inspiration to everyone striving for a just and fair society," Mr Foot said.

The NHS created by Bevan in the image of the Tredegar Workmen's Medical Aid Society - built on the pennies of miners and steelworkers - is widely held to be the greatest achievement of the Attlee government which rebuilt Britain after the Second World War. A portrait of Bevan hangs in the town's hospital, and on a nearby hillside stands another monument - four massive stone pillars, three representing the towns of Tredegar, Ebbw Vale and Rhymney, the fourth and largest dedicated to Bevan himself. They were erected in 1972 on the spot where he addressed huge crowds. A plaque reminds visitors that he also spoke to the wider world.

Much has changed in his home town. The vast Workmen's Hall, which boasted a cinema, four snooker tables, a library of 50,000 books and where Keir Hardie and Bevan spoke to rapt audiences, has fallen to the demolition men. The local colliery, Ty Trist (Welsh for House of Sorrow) closed in 1959.

Over the next six weeks Bevan will be remembered in many ways - a "health fair" at the local leisure centre, a film festival arranged by Ken Loach and Karl Francis, concerts, plays and exhibitions of photographs and memorabilia. Recordings of Bevan's speeches are being collected for the finale - a son et lumiere show at the memorial stones.