David Lloyd George

views updated May 21 2018

David Lloyd George

The English statesman David Lloyd George 1st Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor (1863-1945), 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.

Further Reading

The best biographies, by no means adequate, are Thomas Jones, Lloyd George (1951), and Frank Owen, Tempestuous Journey: Lloyd George, His Life and Times (1954). Important for the World War I period are Lloyd George's own War Memoirs (6 vols., 1933-1937) and Cameron Hazlehurst's Politicians at War, July 1914 to May 1915; A Prologue to the Triumph of Lloyd George (1971). For the postwar years see Lord Beaverbrook, The Decline and Fall of Lloyd George (1963). Thomas Jones, Whitehall Diary, 1916-1930 (2 vols., 1969), and his Diary with Letters, 1931-1950 (1954) follow closely Lloyd George's career. Frances Stevenson, Lloyd George: A Diary (1972), provides an interesting account of his life from 1912 on.

Additional Sources

Rowland, Peter, David Lloyd George: a biography, New York: Macmillan, 1976, 1975.

Gilbert, Bentley B., David Lloyd George: a political life, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1987.

George, W. R. P. (William Richard Philip), The making of Lloyd George, London: Faber, 1976.

Pugh, Martin, Lloyd George, London; New York: Longman, 1988.

Wrigley, Chris, Lloyd George, Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell, 1992. □

Lloyd George, David

views updated May 23 2018


LLOYD GEORGE, DAVID (1863–1945), British politician.

David Lloyd George, perhaps best known as Great Britain's prime minister from 1916 to 1922, was already recognized in 1914 as a leading politician and statesman. Born in Manchester, England, in 1863 to poor but respectable Welsh parents and fatherless by the age of two, Lloyd George seemed destined to lead an obscure life. But robust encouragement from family members and dedicated teachers, combined with native intelligence and natural oratorical skills, created in the young Lloyd George an ambition far beyond what his station in life promised.

Articled to a law firm in 1879, Lloyd George qualified as a solicitor in 1884, and a year later he established his own law firm. His legal aspirations, however, soon lagged behind his political ambitions. His cases in law challenged the perquisites enjoyed by both the Church of England and the landed class in Wales. He denounced rank and privilege at temperance meetings and nonconformist gatherings. In addition, he honed his critical skills in a local debating society and writing for the North Wales Express—an experience that taught him how the press could influence public opinion.

In 1890, at the age of twenty-seven, Lloyd George was elected Liberal member of Parliament (MP) at a by-election for Caernarvon Boroughs, a constituency he held for the remainder of his lengthy political career. In his early days in the House of Commons, Lloyd George's radical and inflammatory voice represented an emerging Welsh democratic nationalism, firmly established among farmers as well as the urban middle class. Gradually, however, Lloyd George took tentative steps toward the center of the Liberal Party. He engaged in constructive reform, especially as it related to social welfare and education. He also defended the threat to free trade posed by Joseph Chamberlain's tariff reform scheme. Yet his radical credentials had not been put aside. He courageously criticized the Boer War (1899–1902) as an irresponsible imperial adventure, especially attacking its faulty strategy and exorbitant expense.

Although he antagonized even some members of his own party by his radical views, his talent could not be ignored. When Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman won a landslide victory at the general election of January 1906, Lloyd George was brought into the cabinet as president of the Board of Trade. From this relatively minor position, he enhanced his reputation as a reformer and added to his stature by his sensible and even-handed negotiations during industrial disputes. Speaking directly with both masters and men during the railway dispute of 1907, for example, he prevented a potentially crippling strike. He was also quite willing to sponsor pro-business legislation, such as the Patents and Designs Act (1907) and the Companies' Act. Even when unsuccessful, he earned wide respect as a man unafraid to tackle difficult problems. Thus, it was not surprising that Lloyd George should replace Herbert Henry Asquith as chancellor of the Exchequer when Asquith became prime minister in April 1908.

In his early years at the Exchequer, four important issues captured his attention: the passage of the old-age pension scheme in 1908; the socalled People's Budget of 1910; the Parliament

Act of 1911; and the National Insurance Scheme of that same year. Support for a pension plan had been developing for some time, and Lloyd George easily carried the bill through Parliament. The People's Budget was an altogether different affair. New taxes on inherited wealth, unearned incomes, and profits derived from the increasing value of land created a furor among the wealthy. When the conservative House of Lords, in an almost unprecedented move, rejected the budget in November 1909, Lloyd George denounced them in scathing speeches in and out of Parliament. After months of political acrimony and a general election, the Lords finally capitulated in April 1910. The Lords' delaying tactics over the budget was the last straw for the Liberals. Since they had come to power four years earlier, the Liberals had seen their legislative programs time and again vetoed by the upper house. For the Liberals, the issue was no longer merely partisan, but constitutional. To trim the power of the Lords, the Liberals introduced a Parliament bill limiting the Lords to a suspensory veto only. A year of fierce partisan strife, including a second general election, ended with its passage in 1911.

While still engaged in the struggle against the House of Lords, Lloyd George began work on the capstone of his social reform policy. A national insurance system—protecting low-income workers from the misfortunes of both ill health and unemployment—was a logical extension of old-age pensions. In piloting the bill through parliament, Lloyd George not only allayed the fears of vested interests such as friendly societies, private insurance companies, and doctors, he also convinced the insured to participate in a contributory plan. Along with old-age pensions, this bill helped to establish in Britain the cooperative principle by which the state, employers, and the employed all participated in social benefit programs.

Though Lloyd George's radical reputation was enhanced by his reform policies, his moderate tendency was increasingly evident in his approach to foreign policy after the Boer War. During cabinet controversies over naval estimates, for example, Lloyd George (if sometimes under duress) invariably found the money to insure British supremacy of the seas, especially over its nearest competitor, Germany. Particularly notable—and shocking to many of his radical Liberal colleagues—was Lloyd George's surprising and influential speech during the Agadir crisis between Germany and France in July 1911, when he warned Germany that Britain was determined to maintain its dominance in the world.

The year 1911 was the high point of Lloyd George's prewar career. For the next few years, his reputation suffered from a series of political and financial misjudgments. His purchase of shares in the American Marconi Company at a time when its British counterpart was contracting with the British government to build wireless stations throughout the empire created the outward impression of a conflict of interest. His parliamentary initiatives involving land reforms in 1913 and the budget in 1914 were unsuccessful. His attempts to enact some form of women's suffrage failed. Strains in his family and personal life were occasioned by his growing intimacy with Frances Stevenson, the young woman who in 1912 became his secretary and shortly thereafter his mistress.

Criticism began to emerge, though much of it was based on partisan rancor. Some maintained that Lloyd George's vaunted negotiating skills indicated a lack of fixed principles, and that his compromises were merely designed to gain any convenient outcome. His most visceral opponents portrayed him as an ill-bred country solicitor far too enamored of golf, travel, and the good life. There is something to these criticisms; but the reasons lay not in a failure of character. His inclination for changing course, seeking compromise, and occasional grandstanding behavior was more likely rooted in an unexplored psychological need that sometimes intruded upon his public life. In fact, Lloyd George frequently manifested an almost obsessive desire for popular approval, even adulation. Evidence for this exists in his private letters to his family and in unguarded remarks to close friends. With all the doubts about his behavior, however, Lloyd George displayed enormous potential as a political leader in the years before 1914. No one could have foretold that a brutal war and divisive peace would provide the opportunity for Lloyd George to recoup his reputation as a man of vision and energy—at least for a time.

See alsoGreat Britain; Labour Party; Suffragism.


Gilbert, Bentley Brinkerhoff. David Lloyd George: A Political Life. Vol. 1: The Architect of Change, 1863–1912. Columbus, Ohio, 1987.

——. David Lloyd George: A Political Life. Vol. 2: Organizer of Victory, 1912–1916. Columbus, Ohio, 1992.

Grigg, John. The Young Lloyd George. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1973.

——. Lloyd George: The People's Champion, 1902–1911. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1978.

——. Lloyd George: From Peace to War, 1912–1916. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985.

Packer, Ian. Lloyd George. London, 1998.

Rowland, Peter. The Last Liberal Governments: The Promised Land, 1905–1910. New York, 1968.

——. The Last Liberal Governments: Unfinished Business, 1911–1914. London, 1971.

Travis L. Crosby

Lloyd George, David

views updated May 29 2018

Lloyd George, David (1863–1945) British statesman, prime minister (1916–22). A Welsh Liberal, he entered Parliament in 1890. As chancellor of the exchequer (1908–15), Lloyd George increased taxation to pay for social measures such as old-age pensions. His ‘People's Budget’ (1909) provoked a constitutional crisis that led to a reduction of the powers of the House of Lords. He was an effective minister of munitions (1915) during World War I. In 1916, he led a cabinet rebellion to dislodge the prime minister, Herbert Asquith. Lloyd George led a coalition government with the Conservatives for the rest of the war. He won by a landslide in 1918 elections and was a leading figure at the peace conference in Versailles. In 1921, he negotiated with Sinn Féin to create the Irish Free State and the Conservatives withdrew their support. Andrew Bonar Law succeeded him as prime minister.