Dedication without Hope

At the beginning of April Caroline and I went up to London to see a performance of Nye at the National Theatre. The Nye in question was the great Labour politician whose greatest achievement was the creation of the National Health Service which came into being on 5 July 1948.

Nye Bevan was a miner from a mining family.  Born in the South Wales mining town of Tredegar, at the age of 13 Nye worked underground in the mines from the age of 13.  Even in his teens he was politically motivated. Active in the General Strike of 1926 where he was fighting for the rights of the miners, he was elected as the MP for Ebbw Vale in 1929. To Nye’s great surprise the post-war Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee appointed Bevan as Minister for Health and Housing in July 1945 and was given the brief of establishing a National Health Service.

Nye was passionate to see a national health service.  He had seen so many families suffering from not having the means to have medical care. Furthermore, his father had died painfully of coal miner’s pneumoconiosis caused by the inhalation of coal dust.

Getting the National Heath Service Act through Parliament proved a bruising experience. Not only were the Tories against the idea, so too were the doctors. For a man like Nye who saw everything in black and white, there was no room for compromise. However, with the help of Attlee, Nye eventually realised that if the country were to have a national health service compromise was the only way. He won the doctors round by allowing them to engage in private medicine alongside their work in the health service, and by promising them that they would be the highest paid professionals in the nation. With that sweetener the National Health Service Act came into force on 5 July 1948.

This is the context in which Tim Price’s play is set.  The production begins and ends with Nye in the process of dying. Dressed throughout the play in his pyjamas, he sits on his bed reflecting on the past with his wife, Jennie Lee, herself a Labour MP. It is poignant but at the same time a very funny portrayal. At times there are a host of other patients in their hospital beds, all whirling around with nurses and consultants running around. There is music, there is singing, and there is dancing. The choreography is stunning. It is amusing, mind-blowing, and thought-provoking.

Inevitably I found myself reflecting on the National Health Service today.  When the next Labour government come into power (for clearly the Tories are set to be kicked into humiliating opposition) there will need to be radical reform.  At the moment the health service is strapped for cash. To my mind the only way in which money can be found is for the UK to follow the example of Australia and New Zealand where, as I understand it. there is an insurance scheme dealing where there is medical negligence quite separate from their health services, which means that the millions and millions of pounds that the National Health Service in the UK has to spend on compensating victims of negligence disappears, with the result that there is money galore to pay the doctors and the nurses and to have first-rate equipment.

For all the entertainment that evening, as a Christian I found the ending of the play thoroughly depressing. For although as a child Nye had gone to church, he lost his faith early in life and he and his friends are without hope when it comes to facing death, I am reminded of the words of the American astronomer, Carl Sagan:

I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. ….The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.

Yet the reality is that there is hope for us all in Jesus, for God raised Jesus from the dead As the Apostle Peter wrote: “God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. Christian hope is not a whistling in the dark, but is sure and certain. Our hope is sure and certain, for in the words of the Anglican committal service, Jesus will transform our bodies so “that they be conformed to his glorious body, who died, was buried, and rose again from the dead “.  Sadly Nye and Jennie and so many others too have failed to see the difference that Jesus makes. In this respect I found the play ended on a depressing note.


  1. Sadly Paul this to me is so true
    Many Christians joined the Labour Party to rightly improve society and to bring in proper justice and fairness but then promptly lost their faith and reason to be . Selling their eternity for the here and now – the be all and end all.
    My sadness is that all politicians and leaders of industry now are very this world based and very self serving – in it for self money and a short happy retirement in this life-
    Where has the morality the justice the serving of others gone ?
    I even see many ministers who treat churches like cash machines.
    At work and in church Money was treated as though it is our own!

    Sadly I do not have much hope for the future with such a morally bankrupt leadership ….
    I feel like Isaiah when he said woe is he I live amongst a people of unclean lips —and counted himself amongst the unclean as do I these days seeing I am no different really deep down that others / sad
    But I do have a hope of better in the future through Christ Jesus .
    Praise be to God who has given himself for us even when we were a king way off
    Jesus is our only hope

  2. Dear Paul, I share your sadness at the lack of hope portrayed in the play, and western life in general. I recall Francis Schaffer’s expressed over 40 years ago, that so many modern people are living below the threshold of despair. The church/theology is guilty of a number of own goals, 2 particular I would mention, was the failure of some to engage seriously with Darwin, and the resulting retreat into fundamentalism by one section of the church, and on the other hand the pervasive view within liberal theology that unless assertions of scripture could be proved, they should be discarded, this has led to the insidious acceptance by many that the gospel accounts have little historic basis. I have found it helpful to listen to the freely available YouTube recordings of John Lennox, of his experience in the 60’s at Cambridge where he both heard CS Lewis lecture, and was subjected to appalling pressure by academics including a university chaplain to abandon his biblical faith. 2 things I have found helpful from John Lennox, one is his insistence the Christian faith is evidence based, the 2nd is the Websters dictionary attempt to redefine faith as belief in that for which there is no evidence. Regards, Peter

  3. A fascinating account of Nye Bevan’s life. Thankyou, Paul.
    However, I do believe the nature of faith is always that we have to live without certainty. So while we hope for life after death, perhaps that should not be such an issue as living here and now with the new life that the resurrection promises. I agree with you that it was a pity Nye lost his faith and became unable to see God working through his achievements, for if not it may have concerned him less that he was uncertain about his future after death; he could at least have felt then that his life was worthwhile, whatever happened to him subsequently.

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