David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, OM, PC (17 January 1863 – 26 March 1945) was a British and Welsh Liberal politician and statesman.
As Chancellor of the Exchequer (1908–1915), Lloyd George was a key figure in the introduction of many reforms which laid the foundations of the modern welfare state. His most important role came as the highly energetic Prime Minister of the Wartime Coalition Government (1916–22), during and immediately after the First World War. He was a major player at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 that reordered Europe after the defeat of the Central Powers. He arguably made a greater impact on British public life than any other 20th-century leader, thanks to his pre-war introduction of Britain's social welfare system, his leadership in winning the war, his post-war role in reshaping Europe, and his partitioning Ireland (between Southern Ireland - later the Irish Free State - and Northern Ireland which remained part of the UK).
He was the last Liberal to serve as Prime Minister. Parliamentary support for the coalition premiership was mostly from Conservatives rather than his own Liberals. The Liberal split contributed to the long-term collapse of that party as a major political force. Although he became leader of the Liberal Party in the late 1920s, he was unable to regain power, and by the 1930s he was a marginalised and widely mistrusted figure.
He was voted the third greatest British prime minister of the 20th century in a poll of 139 academics organised by MORI, and in 2002 he was named among the 100 Greatest Britons following a UK-wide vote.
Upbringing and early life
Lloyd George was born in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester, to Welsh parents, and was brought up as a Welsh-speaker. He is so far the only British Prime Minister to have been Welsh and to have spoken English as a second language.
His father, William George, had been a teacher in both London and Liverpool. He also taught in the Hope Street Sunday Schools, which were administered by the Unitarians, where he met Unitarian minister Dr James Martineau. In March of the same year, on account of his failing health, William George returned with his family to his native Pembrokeshire. He took up farming but died in June 1864 of pneumonia, aged 44. His widow, Elizabeth George (1828–96), sold the farm and moved with her children to her native Llanystumdwy in Caernarfonshire, where she lived in Tŷ Newydd with her brother Richard Lloyd (1834–1917), who was a shoemaker, a minister (in the Scotch Baptists and then the Church of Christ), and a strong Liberal. Lloyd George was educated at the local Anglican school Llanystumdwy National School and later under tutors. Lloyd George's uncle was a towering influence on him, encouraging him to take up a career in law and enter politics; his uncle remained influential up until his death at age 83 in February 1917, by which time his nephew had become Prime Minister. He added his uncle's surname to become "Lloyd George". His surname is usually given as "Lloyd George" and sometimes as "George". The influence of his childhood showed through in his entire career, as he attempted to aid the common man at the expense of what he liked to call "the Dukes" (that is, the aristocracy). However, his biographer John Grigg argued that Lloyd George's childhood was nowhere near as poverty-stricken as he liked to suggest, and that a great deal of his self-confidence came from having been brought up by an uncle who enjoyed a position of influence and prestige in his small community.
Brought up a devout evangelical, as a young man he suddenly lost his religious faith. Biographer Don Cregier says he became "a Deist and perhaps an agnostic, though he remained a chapel-goer and connoisseur of good preaching all his life." He kept quiet about that, however, and was hailed as "one of the foremost fighting leaders of a fanatical Welsh Nonconformity".
It was also during this period of his life that Lloyd George first became interested in the issue of land ownership. As a young man he read books by Thomas Spence, John Stuart Mill and Henry George, as well as pamphlets written by George Bernard Shaw and Sidney Webb of the Fabian Society on the issue of land ownership. By the age of twenty-one, he had already read and taken notes on Henry George's Progress and Poverty. This strongly influenced Lloyd George's politics later in life through the People's Budget which heavily drew on the georgist tax reform ideas.
On 24 January 1888 he married Margaret Owen, the daughter of a well-to-do local farming family. Also in that year he and other young Welsh Liberals founded a monthly paper Udgorn Rhyddid (Bugle of Freedom) and won on appeal to the Divisional Court of Queen's Bench the Llanfrothen burial case; this established the right of Nonconformists to be buried according to their own denominational rites in parish burial grounds, a right given by the Burial Laws Amendment Act 1880 that had up to then been ignored by the Anglican clergy. It was this case, which was hailed as a great victory throughout Wales, and his writings in Udgorn Rhyddid that led to his adoption as the Liberal candidate for Carnarvon Boroughs on 27 December 1888.
In 1889 he became an Alderman on the Carnarvonshire County Council which had been created by the Local Government Act 1888. At that time he appeared to be trying to create a separate Welsh national party modelled on Parnell's Irish Parliamentary Party and worked towards a union of the North and South Wales Liberal Federations. For the same county Lloyd George would also become a JP (1910) and chairman of Quarter Sessions (1929–38), and DL in 1921.
President of the Board of Trade (1905–1908)
In 1906, Lloyd George entered the new Liberal Cabinet of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as President of the Board of Trade. In that position he introduced legislation on many topics, from merchant shipping and the Port of London to companies and railway regulation, but his main achievement was in stopping a proposed national strike of the railway unions by brokering an agreement between the unions and the railway companies. While almost all the companies refused to recognise the unions, Lloyd George persuaded the companies to recognise elected representatives of the workers who sat with the company representatives on conciliation boards—one for each company. If those boards failed to agree then there was a central board. This was Lloyd George's first great triumph, for which he received praises from, among others, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Two weeks later, however, his great excitement was crushed by his daughter Mair's death from appendicitis.
Chancellor of the Exchequer (1908–1915)
On Campbell-Bannerman's death he succeeded Asquith, who had become Prime Minister, as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1908 to 1915. While he continued some work from the Board of Trade—for example, legislation to establish the Port of London Authority and to pursue traditional Liberal programmes such as licensing law reforms—his first major trial in this role was over the 1908–1909 Naval Estimates. The Liberal manifesto at the 1906 general election included a commitment to reduce military expenditure. Lloyd George strongly supported this, writing to Reginald McKenna, First Lord of the Admiralty, "the emphatic pledges given by all of us at the last general election to reduce the gigantic expenditure on armaments built up by the recklessness of our predecessors."
He then proposed the programme be reduced from six to four dreadnoughts. This was adopted by the government, but there was a public storm when the Conservatives, with covert support from the First Sea Lord, Admiral Jackie Fisher, campaigned for more with the slogan "We want eight and we won't wait". This resulted in Lloyd George's defeat in Cabinet and the adoption of estimates including provision for eight dreadnoughts.
Later political career (1922–1945)
Throughout the 1920s Lloyd George remained highly visible in politics; predictions that he would return to power were common, but it never happened. Before the 1923 election, he resolved his dispute with Asquith, allowing the Liberals to run a united ticket against Stanley Baldwin's policy of protective tariffs. Baldwin both feared and despised Lloyd George, and one of his aims was to keep him out of power. He later claimed that he had adopted tariffs, which cost the Conservatives their majority, out of concern that Lloyd George was about to do so on his return from a tour of North America. Although there was press speculation at the time that Lloyd George would do so (or adopt US-style Prohibition to appeal to newly enfranchised women voters), there is no evidence that this was his intent. At the 1924 general election, Baldwin won a clear victory, the leading coalitionists such as Austen Chamberlain and Lord Birkenhead (and former Liberal Winston Churchill) agreeing to serve under Baldwin and thus ruling out any restoration of the 1916–22 coalition.
Liberal leaderThe disastrous election result in 1924 left the Liberals as a weak third party in British politics. As Asquith had again lost his seat in the Commons, Lloyd George became chairman of the Liberal MPs then, in 1926 succeeded him as Liberal leader. Lloyd George used his fund to finance candidates and put forward innovative ideas for public works to reduce unemployment (as detailed in pamphlets such as the "Yellow Book" and the "Green Book"). Lloyd George was also helped by John Maynard Keynes to write We can Conquer Unemployment, setting out economic policies to solve unemployment. In 1927 the party faced historic charges of corruption first raised during Rosebery's period of ineffectual party management in the 1890s. He still controlled a large fund from his investments in newspaper ownership and from his sale of titles and used it to finance the Liberals. In the 1923 election his fund gave the party £100,000, in 1924 £60,000 and in 1927 he gave £300,000 plus an annual grant of between £30,000 and £40,000 for the operations of the Liberal headquarters. He also gave £2,000 per annum to the parliamentary party until 1931. Even with the money the results at the 1929 general election were disappointing. The Liberals increased their support only to 60 or so seats, while Labour became the largest party for the first time. Once again, the Liberals ended up supporting a minority Labour government. In 1929 Lloyd George became Father of the House (longest-serving member of the Commons), an honorific position without power.
Appeasement of GermanyLloyd George was consistently pro-German after 1923. He supported German demands for territorial concessions and recognition of its "great power" status; he paid much less attention to the security concerns of France, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Belgium. In August 1934 (following Austria's transition to fascism) he insisted Germany could not wage war, and assured European nations that there would be no risk of war during the next ten years. The Germans welcomed him as a friend. In September 1936 he went to Germany to talk with the German dictator Adolf Hitler. Hitler said he was pleased to have met "the man who won the war"; Lloyd George was moved, and called Hitler "the greatest living German". Lloyd George also visited Germany's public works programmes and was impressed. On his return to Britain he wrote an article for The Daily Express praising Hitler; he wrote, "The Germans have definitely made up their minds never to quarrel with us again." He believed Hitler was "the George Washington of Germany"; that he was rearming Germany for defence and not for offensive war; that a war between Germany and Russia would not happen for at least ten years; that Hitler admired the British and wanted their friendship but that there was no British leadership to exploit this. However, by 1938, Lloyd George's distaste for Neville Chamberlain led him to disavow Chamberlain's appeasement policies.
Last yearsIn the last important parliamentary intervention of his career, which occurred during the crucial Norway Debate of May 1940, Lloyd George made a powerful speech that helped to undermine Chamberlain as Prime Minister and to pave the way for the ascendancy of Churchill. Churchill offered Lloyd George the agriculture portfolio in his Cabinet but he refused, citing his unwillingness to sit alongside Chamberlain. Lloyd George also thought that Britain's chances in the war were dim, and he remarked to his secretary: "I shall wait until Winston is bust." He wrote to the Duke of Bedford in September 1940 advocating a negotiated peace with Germany after the Battle of Britain.
A pessimistic speech by Lloyd George on 7 May 1941 led Churchill to compare him with Philippe Pétain. On 11 June 1942 he made his last-ever speech in the House of Commons, and he cast his last vote in the Commons on 18 February 1943 as one of the 121 MPs (97 Labour) condemning the Government for its failure to back the Beveridge Report. Fittingly, his final vote was in defence of the welfare state which he had helped to create.
Increasingly in his late years his characteristic political courage gave way to physical timidity and hypochondria. He continued to attend Castle Street Baptist Chapel in London, and to preside over the national eisteddfod at its Thursday session each summer. At the end, he returned to Wales. In September 1944, he and Frances left Churt for Tŷ Newydd, a farm near his boyhood home in Llanystumdwy. He was now weakening rapidly and his voice failing. He was still an MP but had learned that wartime changes in the constituency meant that Carnarvon Boroughs might go Conservative at the next election. On New Years Day 1945 Lloyd George was raised to the peerage as Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, and Viscount Gwynedd, of Dwyfor in the County of Caernarvonshire. Under the rules governing titles within the peerage, Lloyd George's name in his title was hyphenated even though his surname was not.