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David Lloyd George
1863 - 1945
 



The Welsh statesman David Lloyd George 1st Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor, was prime minister from 1916 to 1922. Although he was one of Britain's most successful wartime leaders, he contributed greatly to the decline of the Liberal party.
 

 

It has been said of David Lloyd George that he "was the first son of the people to reach supreme power." His life is representative of the transition in leadership from the landed aristocracy of the 19th century to the mass democracy of the 20th. But his career is almost unique in the manner in which he attained power and held it - by his indifference to tradition and precedent, by his reliance on instinct rather than on reason, and by the force of his will and of his capacity despite personal unpopularity.

Lloyd George, as in later days he would have his surname, was born on Jan. 17, 1863, in Manchester, the son of William George, a schoolmaster of Welsh background, and of Elizabeth Lloyd. William George died in 1864, and Richard Lloyd, brother of the widow, took his sister and the three children into the family home at Llanystumdwy, Wales. From his uncle, a shoemaker by trade, a Baptist preacher, and an active Liberal in politics, young David absorbed much of the evangelical ethic and the radical ideal. He went to the village school. Barred from the Nonconformist ministry because it was unpaid, and excluded from teaching because that would have required joining the Church of England, he was articled, at age 16, to a firm of solicitors in Portmadoc. He soon began writing articles and making speeches on land reform, temperance, and religion. He often preached in the chapel. In 1884 he passed the Law Society examinations. He opened his office at Criccieth, helped organize the farmers' union, and was active in antitithe agitation. In 1888 he married Margaret Owen, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer; they had five children.


Early Political Career

Lloyd George's activity in the politics of the new county council (created 1888) led to his election in 1890 as the member of Parliament for Caernarvon Borough, which he was to represent for the next 55 years. His maiden speech was on temperance, but his primary interest was in home rule for Wales. He led a revolt within the Liberal party against Lord Rosebery in 1894-1895 and successfully carried through its second reading a bill for the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales. The Conservatives returned in 1895, and the bill could go no further. But his reputation was made by his bitter and uncompromising opposition to the Boer War as morally and politically unjustified. The Liberals were badly split, but in the reconstruction of the party after the war, the "center point of power, " declared a Liberal journalist, was in Lloyd George and other young radicals.

In the strong Liberal Cabinet formed in 1905, Lloyd George became president of the Board of Trade. He pushed through legislation on the merchant marine, patents, and copyrights. A chaos of private dock companies in London was replaced by a unified Port of London Authority. The Welsh agitator had become the responsible minister and brilliant administrator.


Chancellor of the Exchequer

When Herbert Asquith became prime minister in 1908, Lloyd George was promoted to chancellor of the Exchequer. To pay for old-age pensions as well as for dreadnoughts, he presented in April 1909 a revolutionary "People's Budget" with an innovative tax on unearned increment in land values and a sharp rise in income tax and death duties. He lashed out, in his celebrated Limehouse speech, against landlords waxing rich on rising land values. When the Lords obstructed, spurred on by Arthur Balfour, the Conservative leader, he said that the House of Lords was not the watchdog of the Constitution; it was only "Mr. Balfour's poodle." The Lords' delay in accepting the budget precipitated the controversy with the Commons over the Lords' veto. At a secret conference of party leaders Lloyd George suggested a nonpartisan Cabinet - interesting in view of his later reliance on coalition.

Eventually the Lords' veto was limited, and Lloyd George proceeded with the National Insurance Act, providing protection against sickness, disability, and unemployment in certain trades. But in so doing he encountered charges of "demagoguery." His future was unclear. His popularity was undoubtedly increased by his Mansion House speech in 1911. Germany had sent a gunboat to Agadir in French-controlled Morocco, and Britain was committed to supporting the French interest. Lloyd George, the man of peace, startled the world by warning Germany that Britain would not harbor interference with its legitimate interests. In the next year came the Marconi scandal, involving Lloyd George and other ministers who had invested in the American Marconi Company just when its British associate was contracting with the government for development of radiotelegraph. Though a motion of censure was defeated, Lloyd George and the others remained suspect.


Prime Minister

In August 1914 the Cabinet was divided on the war issues. Lloyd George at first wavered but with violation of Belgian neutrality aligned himself against Germany. His reputation soared in the newly created Ministry of Munitions, to which he was appointed in the coalition government organized by Asquith in May 1915. Lloyd George settled labor disputes, constructed factories, and soon replaced serious shortages with an output exceeding demand. When Lord Kitchener was lost at sea in June 1916, Lloyd George became minister of war. "The fight must be to the finish - to a knockout blow, " he declared. In such direction, however, Asquith's rather aimless leadership did not seem to be moving.

In December 1916 Asquith, faced by a revolt from Conservatives along with Lloyd George, resigned. Lloyd George succeeded. In the new War Cabinet of five, the "Welsh Wizard" was the only Liberal, but he "towered like a giant." His role is controversial, but he galvanized the war effort, and it is generally accepted that without him England could hardly have emerged from the conflict so successfully.

At the end of the war, despite the defection of Asquith and his Liberal following, Lloyd George, with strong Conservative support, decided to continue the coalition. He received overwhelming endorsement in the election of 1918. At the peace conference he mediated successfully between the idealism of U.S. president Woodrow Wilson and the punitive terms sought by French premier Georges Clemenceau. And he led in the formation of the Irish Free State in 1921, though losing Conservative support in the process.

But at home Lloyd George's oratory about constructing "a new society" came to naught; he did not have Conservative backing for reform, and his own efforts were equivocal. Conservative disenchantment reached the breaking point in the Turkish crisis of 1922 - he was pro-Greek, the Conservatives pro-Turk. The Conservatives in the Commons voted, more than 2 to 1, to sever ties. Lloyd George was only 59, but his ministerial career was over. He never reestablished himself in the Liberal party, which, now divided between his supporters and those of Asquith, and suffering defection to Labor of its leadership and its rank and file, disintegrated beyond recovery. Lloyd George attempted a personal comeback in 1929, espousing massive programs of state action in the economy. His popular vote (25 percent) was respectable, but in the Commons the Liberals remained a poor third. He relinquished party leadership, and his power in the Commons was reduced to his family party of four.


Later Years

Lloyd George's influence in the 1930s was peripheral. Distrusted in many quarters, he was listened to but little heeded. He attacked the Hoare-Laval bargain over Abyssinia. But his misgivings over Versailles led to his respect for Hitler's Germany; in 1936 he visited the Führer at Berchtesgaden. As the crisis deepened, Lloyd George urged an unequivocal statement of Britain's intentions. In his last important intervention in the Commons, in May 1939, he called for the resignation of Neville Chamberlain, who did give way to Winston Churchill. Lloyd George had urged serious consideration of the peace feelers Hitler had broadcast in October 1939, after his conquest of Poland. In July 1940, while preparing for an invasion of England, Hitler made further overtures of peace and toyed with the idea of restoring the Duke of Windsor to the throne and Lloyd George to 10 Downing Street.

Lloyd George's last years were largely spent in his home at Churt in Surrey. His wife died in 1941, and 2 years later he married Frances Louise Stevenson, his personal secretary for 30 years. In 1944 they left Churt to reside in Wales near his boyhood home. On Dec. 31, 1944, he was elevated to the peerage. He died on March 26, 1945.
 


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Chancellor of the Exchequer 1908 – 14, Prime Minister 1916 – 22; Earl 1945 Historians are divided over whether Lloyd George (the "Welsh Wizard") or Winston Churchill is the greatest British political figure in the twentieth century. For all his Welshness Lloyd George was born in Manchester. He was the son of a schoolteacher who died when David was only a few months old. The family moved to rural Wales, where he was brought up by an uncle and eventually became a solicitor. He was born in humble circumstances and belonged to a small nation; the background gave a radical edge to his politics.

Lloyd George won the seat of Carnaervon for the Liberals at a by-election in 1890 and remained its member until 1945, when he took an earldom. He never lost his concern for the poor or small nations. In the 1890s he was prominent as a Welsh radical. He achieved some fame, indeed notoriety, as a courageous critic of the Boer War — which aroused his sympathies for a small nation. Lloyd George led a complicated private life for a prominent nonconformist Liberal politician. He lived openly with a mistress, Frances Stevenson, from 1912 until he married her in 1941, soon after the death of his first wife.

In the 1905 Liberal government he was made president of the Board of Trade and then succeeded Herbert Asquith as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1908 when the latter became Prime Minister. His famous 1909 budget, which raised taxes to fund welfare reforms and increase naval spending, prompted a constitutional crisis when the House of Lords refused to pass it. In 1911 he introduced the National Insurance Act which provided for contributory health and unemployment insurance. In these years Lloyd George was firmly on the left, or radical, wing of the Liberal Party. Unionists feared him as a proponent of class hatred and a demagogue. His supporters regarded him as the voice of the ordinary people.

Lloyd George's talents as an administrator and decisive leader came to the fore during the 1914 – 18 war, even though he decided to support it only late in the day. As Minister of Munitions he brought businessmen into Whitehall and persuaded the trade unions to co-operate in boosting production. As the war made little progress so Lloyd George was increasingly seen as a man who had the necessary energy and drive to achieve victory. He became Secretary of State for War in 1916 and, still frustrated at the lack of direction, proposed a small War Cabinet, with Asquith being relegated to a subordinate role. When Asquith refused to agree Lloyd George resigned on 5 December, prompting a crisis. Asquith resigned later that same day, although he may have hoped to demonstrate his indispensability and be recalled. Instead, it was Lloyd George, supported by the Unionists, who formed a government two days later. The Liberal Party was a casualty of the split between Asquith and Lloyd George and never recovered.

As Prime Minister Lloyd George wielded almost dictatorial powers. He effectively modernized the central government machine. He introduced a small five-member War Cabinet, in place of Asquith's twenty-three-member Cabinet, set up a Cabinet secretariat to take minutes and prepare the agenda, and introduced a "Garden Suburb" which was effectively his own policy staff.

Yet he was not the leader of the Liberal Party and depended heavily upon the support of the Unionists. And for all his energy, dynamism, and popularity with the public, he failed to get control of the army. He could not get rid of General Haig though he bitterly opposed the heavy loss of manpower in Flanders in 1917. In the 1918 general election Lloyd George led the coalition to a landslide victory, but it was largely a Unionist majority and many in the party had little loyalty to him. The divided Liberals did badly and Labour became the official opposition. Lloyd George's plans to fuse the Unionists and his own Liberal followers into a new centre party came to nothing. Although normal Cabinet government was restored in peacetime, Lloyd George still acted in a presidential manner and treated his Foreign Secretary Curzon particularly badly. He enjoyed playing the role of international statesman and was out of the country for a large part of the period.

Lloyd George achieved peace in Ireland — for a time. The Government of Ireland Act (1920) gave independence to the South. But it had been preceded by the statesponsored terrorism of the Black and Tans and further alienated his old Liberal supporters.

Growing discontent among Unionists came to a head when it was feared that Lloyd George was leading Britain into a war against Turkey in 1922. At a famous meeting in the Carlton Club Unionists voted to leave the coalition. Baldwin warned that Lloyd George was "a dynamic force" and "a dynamic force is a terrible thing" and, having split the Liberals, would do the same to the Unionists. There was much concern at the time that he was selling political honours and building up his own war chest with the proceeds. When he fell, he was at the height of his powers and few doubted that he would return. It was not to be. In the general election he was returned at the head of just fifty-five National Liberals.

Lloyd George had an instrumental attitude to political parties. Parties were there to achieve objectives, they were not ends in themselves. But such an attitude made him widely distrusted. He had actually proposed a coalition to the Unionists in 1910 when there were inter-party talks over the constitutional crisis.

He and his National Liberals rejoined the Liberals in 1923 and he succeeded Asquith as leader in 1926 when the latter resigned. In the 1929 election he proposed a bold plan, borrowed from the economist J. M. Keynes, for tackling the unemployment crisis by a public works programme. He was impatient with the feeble attempts of the 1929 Labour government to combat mass unemployment and was negotiating to enter a coalition when the financial crisis produced the collapse of the government in 1931. Lloyd George was ill at the time of the crisis but did not support the decision of the Liberal Party to join the coalition. He was left to lead a small group of Liberals, mainly from his family. The 1930s were spent globe-trotting, earning money from journalism and his best-selling War Memoirs, and intervening on the great issues of the day. There was talk of government posts but in 1940 he refused Winston Churchill's invitation to join the wartime coalition government.
 


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David Lloyd George, 1st earl Lloyd-George (1863-1945). Prime minister

 

Lloyd George laid the foundations of what later became the welfare state, and put a progressive income tax system at the centre of government finance. In 1918 he was acclaimed, not without reason, as the‘Man Who Won the War’. Yet until the appearance of a spate of sympathetic books in the 1970s his reputation remained remarkably low.

He grew up in a modest, but not poor, home in north Wales. Once he had qualified as a solicitor, he was able to use the firm's income to build his political career. In 1890 he won a by-election as a Liberal in the marginal Conservative seat of Caernarfon Boroughs which he retained until 1945.After nearly a decade as a lively backbench rebel, he became a national figure as a result of his courageous opposition to the South African War (1899-1902). In December 1905 his talents were recognized by Campbell-Bannerman, the new Liberal premier, who made him president of the Board of Trade.

Lloyd George's real breakthrough came in 1908 when Asquith promoted him as chancellor of the Exchequer. As he felt politically disadvantaged by his lack of a large private income, he was apt to grab an opportunity to make a quick profit; hence his involvement in the Marconi scandal. But Asquith had correctly seen that Lloyd George possessed the necessary political flair to be chancellor. His famous ‘People's Budget’ of 1909 solved the government's problems by levying extra taxes on a few large incomes and on items of conspicuous consumption like motor cars. This enabled them to pay for both old-age pensions and dreadnought battleships. When his budget was rejected by the peers Lloyd George grasped the opportunity to attack the Conservatives for trying to preserve a privileged élite. This restored the initiative to the Liberals and enabled them to retain their working-class vote in two general elections in 1910. Subsequently Lloyd George maintained his radical credentials with the 1911 National Insurance Act which introduced both health and unemployment insurance for millions of people.

After the outbreak of war he stood out as the only minister whose reputation rose significantly. This was largely attributable to his success as minister of munitions from May 1915. However, his brief spell as secretary of state for war proved less happy because he found himself trapped by the conservative thinking of the military men. His frustration led him to join with Bonar Law in putting pressure on Asquith to streamline the war machine. The result was Asquith's resignation in December 1916. Lloyd George managed to put together a government based on Conservative support plus a majority of the Labour members and a minority of the Liberals. He made an immediate impact on the war effort by instituting a five-man war cabinet serviced by a cabinet secretariat under Sir Maurice Hankey. New ministries were created—Food, Shipping, Air, National Service, Pensions, Labour—to deal with the problems thrown up by the war, and non-party experts and businessmen such as Sir Eric Geddes were often appointed to them.

None the less, Lloyd George's premiership remained a precarious affair. Most Tories neither liked nor trusted him. The sudden military victory in November 1918 gave Lloyd George immense prestige and, thus, a degree of bargaining power. Instead of returning to the Liberal Party he decided to organize his own Lloyd George Liberals and to fight the election in co-operation with the Conservatives.

As a result of his government's overwhelming victory in 1918 he retained office until 1922. Although restricted by the numerical dominance of the Conservatives he had major achievements to his credit: the parliamentary reform of 1918 which enfranchised women, the 1918 Education Act, the 1919 Housing Act, the settlement of the Irish question in 1921, and, of course, the treaty of Versailles. But in time both Liberal and Tory followers grew dissatisfied. Controversy over the huge funds the prime minister accumulated by the sale of honours undermined him; knighthoods were freely offered for £12, 000 and baronetcies for £30, 000. Finally at a meeting in October 1922 the Conservatives voted to cut their links with Lloyd George. He resigned immediately and never took office again.

Though he spent much of the 1920s engaged in Liberal Party infighting, he still made an impact on politics by means of his collaboration with J. M. Keynes and others over a detailed strategy for tackling unemployment. He was too ill to join the National Government in 1931. Though widely expected to serve in Churchill's coalition after 1940, Lloyd George was not keen to do so, and the invitation never came.

 

 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 27 November, 2013