If the Parliamentary Archives ever staged a poll to find what is our most popular archival collection, without a shadow of doubt the Lloyd George Papers would come out on top. Deposited in 1975 its immense range of contents have stirred the curiosity of esteemed historians and undergraduate students alike.
Finishing our trilogy of Parliamentarian profiles taken from various collections that previously included Herbert Samuel and Viscount Stansgate this blog will reassess the distinguished political career of the legendary Welshman via seven distinct images.
To show that Lloyd George was much more than just ‘The Man Who Won the War’.
*All links are to Hansard debates & UK Parliament Living Heritage
GIFT OF THE HWYL
Though great oratory is not a pre-requisite for political excellence it helps to get you noticed. The problem for an up-and-coming Lloyd George was that in the valleys having a delightful vocal lilt was a common trait. Welsh Liberals touted Tom Ellis, leading light of the political movement Cymru Fydd (Young Wales) the one to watch. Since his Uncle Richard first took him to party meetings Lloyd George dreamed of representing his people in the Westminster halls of power. Aged twenty-seven he won the 1890 Caernarvon by-election assisted by a campaign bolstered by the late Victorian equivalent of a crowdfund.
Once established there was no stopping him raising the roof with speeches on temperance and land reform. Press Gallery veteran Harold Spender remarked that Lloyd George had the Celtic ‘gift of the hwyl’. Yet he nearly undone all his sterling work by criticizing British involvement in the South African Boer War. Addressing fiercely patriotic crowds up and down the country to hopefully change hearts and minds. These persuasive powers came out to play again in 1907 as the Liberal Government entrusted him to negotiate with the striking railway unions. To relax he visited a phrenologist to relieve his stressed head.
BEEF TEA AND LITTLE SYMPATHY
Suffering from flu on the biggest day of your ministerial tenure is bad timing. Lloyd George’s 1909 People's Budget was to be read to an expectant House of Commons. A continuation of the social initiatives he’d started to implement on becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer concerning pensions and unemployment benefits. To rejuvenate himself for the four-hour oration he dosed up on restorative beef tea. Backed by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith he had the courage of conviction to constitutionally dismantle the historic House of Lords veto because of the Peer’s dismissal of his Financial Bill to supplement this ground-breaking welfare programme.
Dynamo of domestic politics Lloyd George’s public image was in ascendancy. While his wife Margaret stayed at the family home in Wales, he mostly held court in Surrey at a golf course property leased from newspaper proprietor George Riddell. It was here in February 1913 that a militant wing of the suffragette movement detonated a bomb hidden in a linen cupboard. Thankfully nobody was hurt however Lloyd George’s decision to relay to the press that carpenters working on the house could have been killed prompted the perpetrators to send him an anonymous letter bristling with fury at his self-serving condemnation.
COMETH THE MAN
World War One had entered its third year when Lloyd George assumed the premiership following Herbert Asquith’s resignation. Determined to not repeat the same mistakes as his predecessor he assembled a War Cabinet filled by his favoured ‘push and go merchants’ drawn from across the party lines. Stationed in sheds constructed on the No 10 Downing Street grounds they oversaw everything from U-boats to ration books. Coined ‘The Garden Suburb’ this hub of activity began to wield a substantial influence on wartime governance to the annoyance of an exasperated legislature. Lloyd George’s frequent absences from the front bench were noted.
The damning fatality lists for the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele fuelled the argument from senior military figures that the offensive strategy should be revaluated within the Western Front. Lloyd George focused his attention on persuading America to join the allies as highlighted by a personally recorded message broadcast in stateside theatres. He also made a highly publicized statement to the chamber in the latter part of the war to answer General Frederick Maurice’s allegations published in The Times that he’d intentionally misled Parliament regarding troop numbers. Surviving a subsequent vote of confidence that saw him through to the November Armistice.
As the Armistice bells faded an election was called before the year ended. Convinced that the Conservative-Unionists had the upper hand in holding office Lloyd George persuaded their leader Andrew Bonar Law to continue the National Government system already in place under a coalition banner. To maintain a balance of assorted Liberals and Conservatives they implemented a selection procedure that saw an acceptable nominee granted an official endorsement that critics scornfully dubbed ‘coupons’. To assess which Liberal members he’d bestow this honour upon Lloyd George referred to the ‘Maurice Debate’ votes. Those that voted against him found themselves cast adrift.
Sir Park Goff a grateful coupon recipient achieved the greatest polling shock defeating Liberal stalwart Herbert Samuel in Cleveland. Enhanced by newly enfranchised women the electorate had vastly increased and Lloyd George’s coalition accumulated 526 seats in a colossal victory. Inevitably over-zealous pledges to ‘Make Germany Pay’ dominated the standard soapbox electioneering and a burgeoning Labour Party faced accusations of Bolshevism in connection to the recent Russian Revolution. Hailed in various newspapers as ‘The Man Who Won the War’ Lloyd George was now tasked to lead from the front in producing a Peace Treaty to last for generations to come.
TO HELL WITH LOGIC
Homburg hats and Crombie coats were the fashion as Lloyd George and his deputation left London for the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. On arrival they witnessed a city pulverised to an almost unrecognisable degree. French Prime Minister Clemenceau urged for German disarmament and the payment of considerable reparations for the devastation caused. This stance contrasted with the American President Woodrow Wilson who was adamant that his Fourteen Point Plan centred on a League of Nations was the correct way forward. Such conflicting viewpoints triggered numerous diplomatic deadlocks that famously led Wilson to cry out ‘to hell with logic’.
Residing at a Rue Nitot apartment Lloyd George used this informal setting to mediate between the two men separately seeking compromises for the greater good. It wasn’t all work and no play as he liked to enjoy the occasional day at the races or a theatre trip. Five months after proceedings begun the Treaty of Peace was ceremonially signed in the Palace of Versailles. A gargantuan administrative operation that involved thirty countries, two thousand meetings, sixty commissions and six full sessions. The Parliamentary delegation retired to the Majestic Hotel where copious amounts of champagne was consumed as they bade farewell.
Former cabinet colleagues and junior staffers loved to regale tales of brainstorming sessions round Lloyd George’s breakfast table. As impromptu think tanks got nourished by generous plates of bacon and eggs. His standout coalition ambition heading into the twenties was to provide ‘Homes for Heroes’ for the returning World War One soldiers. Supertalented Dr Christopher Addison was chosen to build the foundations for the 1919 Housing Act. But a mass reconstruction boom was harder to get off the ground than initially envisaged. Stymied by crippling costs the intention to develop 100,000 dwelling units per annum proved to be hugely unrealistic.
Eventually, Lloyd George’s marriage of convenience with the Conservative-Unionists was dissolved as they decided to go it alone at the 1922 General Election. Any chance of reconciling with Herbert Asquith and his loyal followers remained a definite non-starter. In response, he launched a National Liberal Party at Westminster Central Hall. Funded by his own personal coffers’ questions immediately arose whether this secretive bounty was accumulated from the morally dubious sale of peerages and baronetcies. As the decade progressed Liberalism was demoted to third-force status in the electoral landscape as the Labour Party became the voice of the working classes.
KEEP ON MOVING
Despite his advancing years Lloyd George was keenly motivated to keep moving with the changing times and not appear politically irrelevant. Publishing a series of favourably reviewed multi-coloured policy books on agriculture (green), industry (yellow), and employment (orange). Buoyed by this acclaim he drafted in 1935 a Roosevelt inspired UK New Deal that advocated large-scale public works schemes to alleviate the economic depression. Never straying too far from the limelight he wrote regular columns for the News Chronicle and as a recognised international statesman travelled to America for a lucrative lecture tour that earned him an unprecedented fee of £30,000.
Another World War loomed over the horizon and Lloyd George looked on aghast at Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Nazi Germany’s militarism. Still in Parliament at the dramatic 1940 Norway debate he sided with the Prime Minister’s detractors delivering a scathing speech on his dispirited leadership. Winston Churchill on taking the reins offered Lloyd George a Washington-based ambassadorial role that he declined due to health issues. They’d be a final symbolic appearance in the Commons supporting the socially conscious Beveridge Report. Passing away in March 1945 his old adversary Herbert Samuel put aside any bad blood to pay a deserved tribute.
Tempestuous Journey - Lloyd George: His Life and Times by Frank Owen
Lloyd George: Twelve Essays; edited by A. J. P. Taylor.
Lloyd George by Hugh Purcell
David Lloyd George: A Political Life by Bentley Brinkerhoff Gilbert
Oxford Dictionary National Biography – Lloyd George by Kenneth O’Morgan