David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor OM, PC (17 January 1863 – 26 March 1945) was a British statesman and the only Welsh Prime Minister. He was the last Liberal to hold the office. He was Prime Minister throughout the latter half of World War I and the first four years of the subsequent peace. He was also the only Prime Minister to speak English as a second language, Welsh being his first.
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". He was one of three .
Articled to a firm of solicitors in Porthmadog, Lloyd George was admitted in 1884 after taking Honours in his final law examination and set up his own pracby thtice in the back parlour of his uncle's house in 1885. The practice flourished and he established branch offices in surrounding towns, taking his brother William into partnership in 1887. By then he was politically active, having campaigned for the Liberal Party in the 1885 election, attracted by Joseph Chamberlain's "unauthorised programme" of reforms. The election resulted firstly in a stalemate, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives having a majority, the balance of power being held by the Irish Parliamentary Party. William Gladstone's announcement of a determination to bring about Irish Home Rule later led to Chamberlain leaving the Liberals to form the Liberal Unionists. Lloyd George was uncertain of which wing to follow, carrying a pro-Chamberlain resolution at the local Liberal Club and travelling to Birmingham planning to attend the first meeting of Chamberlain's National Radical Union but he had his dates wrong and arrived a week too early. In 1907, he was to say that he thought Chamberlain's plan for a federal solution correct in 1886 and still thought so, that he preferred the unauthorised programme to the Whiggish platform of the official Liberal Party, and that had Chamberlain proposed solutions to Welsh grievances such as land reform and disestablishment he, together with most Welsh Liberals, would have followed Chamberlain.
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 Queens Bench the Llanfrothen Burial case which established the right of Nonconformists to be buried according to their own denominational rites in parish burial grounds, a right given by the Burial Act 1880 that had hitherto 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 Caernarfon Boroughs on 27 December 1888.
In 1889, he became an Alderman on the Caernarfon 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.
As backbench members of the House of Commons were not paid at that time, he supported himself and his growing family by continuing to practise as a solicitor, opening an office in London under the title of Lloyd George and Co and continuing in partnership with William George in Criccieth. In 1897 he merged his growing London practice with that of Arthur Rhys Roberts (who was to become Official Solicitor) under the title of Lloyd George, Roberts and Co.
He was soon speaking on Liberal issues (particularly temperance, the "local option" and national as opposed to denominational education) throughout England as well as Wales. During the next decade, Lloyd George campaigned in Parliament largely on Welsh issues and in particular for disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of England. He wrote extensively for Liberal papers such as the Manchester Guardian. When Gladstone retired after the defeat of the second Home Rule Bill in 1894 the Welsh Liberal members chose him to serve on a deputation to William Harcourt to press for specific assurances on Welsh issues and when those were not forthcoming they resolved to take independent action if the government did not bring a bill for disestablishment. When that was not forthcoming he and three other Welsh Liberals (David Alfred Thomas, Herbert Lewis and Frank Edwards) refused the whip on 14 April 1892 but accepted Lord Rosebery's assurance and rejoined the official Liberals on 29 May. Thereafter, he devoted much time to setting up branches of Cymru Fydd (Wales Will Be) which, he said, would in time become a force like the Irish National Party. He abandoned this idea after being criticised in Welsh newspapers for bringing about the defeat of the Liberal Party in the 1895 election and when, at a meeting in Newport on 16 January 1896, the South Wales Liberal Federation, led by David Alfred Thomas and Robert Bird moved that he be not heard.
He gained national fame by his vehement opposition to the Second Boer War. He based his attack firstly on what were supposed to be the war aims – remedying the grievances of the Uitlanders and in particular the claim they were wrongly denied the right to vote saying "I do not believe the war has any connection with the franchise. It is a question of 45% dividends" and that England (which then did not have universal male suffrage) was more in need of franchise reform than the Boer republics. His second attack was on the cost of the war which prevented overdue social reform in England, such as old age pensions and workman's cottages. As the war progressed he moved his attack to its conduct by the generals, who he said (basing his words on reports by Burdett Coutt in The Times) were not providing for the sick or wounded soldiers and were starving Boer women and children in concentration camps. He reserved his major thrusts for Chamberlain, accusing him of directly profiteering from the war through the Chamberlain family company Kynochs Ltd, of which Chamberlain's brother was Chairman and which had won tenders to the War Office though its prices were higher than some of its competitors. His attacks almost split the Liberal Party as H. H. Asquith, Richard Burdon Haldane and others were supporters of the war and formed the Liberal Imperial League.
His attacks on the government's Education Act which provided that County Councils would fund church schools helped reunite the Liberals, his successful amendment that the County need only fund those schools where the buildings were in good repair served to make the Act a dead letter in Wales where the Counties were able to show most of the Church of England schools were in poor repair. Having already gained national recognition for his anti Boer War campaigns, his leadership of the attacks on the Education Act gave him a strong parliamentary reputation and marked him as a future cabinet member.
In 1903, after the Kishinev Pogrom, Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain offered the Zionist Movement the possibility of settling in Uganda (modern Kenya). Lloyd George represented the movement in drafting an agreement with the government, however the issue was controversial for both sides and eventually voted down by the Zionist movement at a special convention.
In 1906, he entered the new Liberal Cabinet of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as President of the Board of Trade. In that position he brought legislation on many topics, from Merchant Shipping and Companies to 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. His great excitement - apparent from his letters to his family - was crushed by his daughter Mair's death from appendicitis a fortnight later in November 1907.
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 a 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 elections 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. This was later to be said to be one of the main turning points in the naval arms race between Germany and Britain that contributed to the causes of World War I.
He was largely responsible for the introduction of old age pensions, unemployment benefit and state financial support for the sick and infirm - legislation often referred to as the Liberal reforms. These social benefits were met with great hostility in the House of Lords where the "People's Budget" Lloyd George championed to introduce and finance them was rejected because it angered the landed gentry. These social reforms began in Britain the creation of a welfare state that had been preceded in Germany some 20 years earlier. They fulfilled in both countries the aim of dampening down the demands of the growing working class for rather more radical solutions to their impoverishment.
Considered a pacifist until 1914, Lloyd George changed his stance when World War I broke out. When the Liberal government fell as a result of the Shell Crisis of 1915 and was replaced with a coalition government dominated by Liberals still under the Premiership of Asquith, Lloyd George became the first Minister of Munitions in 1915 and then Secretary of State for War in 1916.
There are certain indispensable qualities essential to the Chief Minister of the Crown in a great war. . . . Such a minister must have courage, composure, and judgment. All this Mr. Asquith possessed in a superlative degree. . . . But a war minister must also have vision, imagination and initiative--he must show untiring assiduity, must exercise constant oversight and supervision of every sphere of war activity, must possess driving force to energize this activity, must be in continuous consultation with experts, official and unofficial, as to the best means of utilising the resources of the country in conjunction with the Allies for the achievement of victory. If to this can be added a flair for conducting a great fight, then you have an ideal War Minister.
After 6 December 1916, despite occupying the Premiership David Lloyd George was not all powerful, being dependent on the support of Conservatives for his continuance in power. This was reflected in the make-up of his 5-member war cabinet, which as well as himself included the Conservative Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Curzon; Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons, Andrew Bonar Law; and Minister without Portfolio, Lord Milner. The fifth member, Arthur Henderson, was the unofficial representative of the Labour Party. This accounts for Lloyd George's inability to establish complete personal control over military strategy, as Churchill did in the Second World War, and accounted for some of the most costly military blunders of the war. Nevertheless the War Cabinet was a very successful innovation. It met almost daily, with Sir Maurice Hankey as secretary, and made all major political, military, economic and diplomatic decisions. Rationing was finally imposed in early 1918 and was limited to meat, sugar and fats (butter and oleo) – but not bread; the new system worked smoothly. From 1914 to 1918 trade union membership doubled, from a little over four million to a little over eight million. Work stoppages and strikes became frequent in 1917-18 as the unions expressed grievances regarding prices, liquor control, pay disputes, "dilution," fatigue from overtime and from Sunday work, and inadequate housing.
Conscription put into uniform nearly every physically fit man, six million out of ten million eligible. Of these about 750,000 lost their lives and 1,700,000 were wounded. Most deaths were to young unmarried men; however 160,000 wives lost husbands and 300,000 children lost fathers. [Havighurst p 134-5]
The originality and creativity of the many organisations and systems which Lloyd George created to fight the First World War is demonstrated by the fact that most were replicated when war came again in 1939. As Lord Beaverbrook remarked, There were no signposts to guide Lloyd George.
At the end of the war Lloyd George's reputation stood at its zenith. A leading Conservative said He can be dictator for life if he wishes. In the "Coupon election" of 1918 he declared this must be a land "fit for heroes to live in." He did not say, "We shall squeeze the German lemon until the pips squeak" (that was Eric Campbell Geddes) but he did express that sentiment about reparations from Germany to pay the entire cost of the war, including pensions. At Bristol, he said that German industrial capacity "will go a pretty long way." We must have "the uttermost farthing," and "shall search their pockets for it." As the campaign closed, he summarised his program:
His "National Liberal" coalition won a massive landslide, winning 525 of the 707 contests; however the Conservatives had control within the Coalition of more than two-thirds of its seats. Asquith's independent Liberals were crushed and emerged with only 33 seats, falling behind Labour. [Havighurst p 151]
Lloyd George represented Britain at the Versailles Peace Conference, clashing with French Premier Georges Clemenceau, American President Woodrow Wilson and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando. Lloyd George wanted to punish Germany politically and economically for devastating Europe during the war, but did not want to utterly destroy the German economy and political system the way Clemenceau and many other people of France wanted to do with their demand for massive reparations. Memorably, he replied to a question as to how he had done at the peace conference, "Not badly, considering I was seated between Jesus Christ and Napoleon" (Wilson and Clemenceau). The British economist John Maynard Keynes attacked Lloyd George's stance on reparations in his book The Economic Consequences of the Peace calling the Prime Minister a "half-human visitor to our age from the hag-ridden magic and enchanted woods of Celtic antiquity".
Lloyd George began to feel the weight of the coalition with the Conservatives after the war. His decision to extend conscription to Ireland was nothing short of disastrous, indirectly leading a majority of Irish MPs to declare independence. He presided over a war of attrition in Ireland, which led to the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty with Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins and the formation of the Irish Free State. At one point, he famously declared of the IRA, "We have murder by the throat!" However he was soon to begin negotiations with IRA leaders to recognise their authority and end the conflict.
Lloyd George's coalition was too large, and deep fissures quickly emerged. The more traditional wing of the Unionist Party had no intention of introducing these reforms, which led to three years of frustrated fighting within the coalition both between the National Liberals and the Unionists and between factions within the Conservatives themselves. It was this fighting, coupled with the increasingly differing ideologies of the two forces in a country reeling from the costs of war that led to Lloyd George's fall from power. In June 1922 Conservatives were able to show that he had been selling knighthoods and peerages for money. Conservatives were concerned by his desire to create a party from these funds comprising moderate Liberals and Conservatives. A major attack in the House of Lords followed on his corruption resulting in the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925. The Conservatives also attacked Lloyd George as lacking any executive accountability as Prime Minister, claiming that he never turned up to Cabinet meetings and banished some government departments to the gardens of 10 Downing Street.
His government was brought down by the Chanak Crisis during which on 12 October 1922 at a meeting called by Austen Chamberlain as the leader of the Conservatives in the House of Commons, the frustrated and underused coalition backbenchers sealed Lloyd George's fate. Chamberlain and other prominent Conservatives such as the Earl of Balfour argued for supporting Lloyd George, while prospective party leader Andrew Bonar Law argued the other way, claiming that breaking up the coalition "wouldn't break Lloyd George's heart". The main attack came from Stanley Baldwin, then a junior treasury minister, who spoke of Lloyd George as a "dynamic force" who would break the Conservative Party. Baldwin and many of the more progressive members of the Conservative Party fundamentally opposed Lloyd George and those who supported him on moral grounds. The motion that the Conservative Party should fight the next election (then due in a matter of months) on its own, rather than co-operating with the Coalition Liberals was carried 187 to 86.
In 1934, Lloyd George made a controversial statement about reserving the right to "bomb niggers that has since been quoted by political activist Noam Chomsky and others. The quote was originally attributed to Lloyd George in 1934 by Frances Stevenson, his secretary and second wife, in her diary, which was published in 1971. On page 259 of Lloyd George: A Diary by Frances Stevenson, the 9 March 1934 diary entry includes the following passage: "Debate last night in the House on Air—strong demonstrations in favour of increased no. of fighting planes. D. [David Lloyd George] says it could have been avoided but for Simon's [Sir John Simon's] mismanagement. At Geneva other countries would have agreed not to use aeroplanes for bombing purposes, but we insisted on reserving the right, as D. puts it, to bomb niggers! Whereupon the whole thing fell through, & we add 5 millions to our air armaments expenditure. British historian V.G. Kiernan wrote that Lloyd George and others in the British government had argued during that period for the right to bomb British colonies as they deemed it necessary.
On 17 January 1935 Lloyd George sought to promote a radical programme of economic reform, called "Lloyd George's New Deal" after the American New Deal. However the programme did not find favour in the mainstream political parties. Later that year Lloyd George and his family reunited with the Liberal Party in Parliament. In August 1936 Lloyd George met Hitler at Berchtesgaden and offered some public comments that were surprisingly favourable to the German dictator, expressing warm enthusiasm both for Hitler personally and for Germany's public works schemes (upon returning, he wrote of Hitler in the Daily Express as "the greatest living German", "the George Washington of Germany"). Despite this embarrassment, however, as the 1930s progressed Lloyd George became more clear-eyed about the German threat and joined Winston Churchill, among others, in fighting the government's policy of appeasement. In the late 1930s he was sent by the British government to try to dissuade Adolf Hitler from his plans of Europe-wide expansion. In perhaps 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 as Premier.
Churchill offered Lloyd George a place in his Cabinet but he refused, citing his dislike of 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 on 7 May 1941 led Churchill to compare him with Pétain. On 11 June 1942 he made his final ever speech in the House of Commons and 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.
He enjoyed listening to the broadcasts of William Joyce. 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 somewhat bleak farming property 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 Caernarfon 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.
He died of cancer on 26 March 1945, aged 82, without ever taking up his seat in the House of Lords, Frances and his daughter Megan at the bedside. Four days later, on Good Friday, in a simple service, he was buried beside the River Dwyfor in Llanystumdwy.
A great boulder marks his grave; there is no inscription. However a grand monument designed by the late architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis has since been erected around the grave, bearing an englyn (strict-metre stanza) engraved on slate in his memory composed by his nephew Dr William George. Across the lane stands one of the entrances to the impressive Lloyd George Museum, also designed by Williams-Ellis and opened in 1963.
His perceived double-dealing on many issues alienated many of his former supporters, but there is no doubt that he was a brilliant politician, hence his nickname: The Welsh Wizard.
The marriage caused severe tension between Lloyd George and his children by his first wife. He had five children by Dame Margaret—Richard (1889-1968), Mair (1890-1907), Olwen (1892-1990), Gwilym (1894-1967) and Megan (1902-1966)—and one child by Stevenson, a daughter called Jennifer (b. 1929).
His son, Gwilym, and daughter, Megan, both followed him into politics and were elected members of parliament. They were politically faithful to their father throughout his life but following their father's death each drifted away from the Liberal Party, with Gwilym finishing his career as a Conservative Home Secretary, whilst Megan became a Labour MP in 1957, perhaps symbolising the fate of much of the old Liberal Party.
The Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan is his great-granddaughter. The British television presenter Dan Snow is his great-great-grandson. Other descendants include Owen, 3rd Earl Lloyd George, who is his grandson, and his children David, Robert (the CEO of Lloyd George Management) and Julia.