Potted biography: David
Lloyd George (from January 1945: 1st Earl Lloyd-George
of Dwyfor, Viscount Gwynedd of Dwyfor).
Born 17th January 1863, Manchester; Died 26th March 1945, Tynewydd, Llanystumdwy, Caernarfonshire.
It comes as a bit of a surprise to realise that the man who is arguably the greatest politician in Welsh history actually had the misfortune to be born in England, where his father, a Pembrokeshire native, was the headmaster of a primary school in Manchester. However, his father died when David was 18 months old, and his mother moved to Llanystumdwy in Caernarfonshire where her brother Richard Lloyd, the local shoemaker and Baptist minister, supported her and her family. His uncle enabled DLG to embark on a legal career as a solicitor when he was 14, and he passed his final legal examinations in 1884. The causes of the Liberal Party, the Welsh nation, and Nonconformity were inseparable in the atmosphere in which DLG was raised, and he first made his name in the "Llanfrothen Burial Case" when he successfully established the right of Nonconformists to be buried in their parish churchyard.
As a young man, DLG had good looks which ensured his success with women. He married Margaret Owen in 1888, by whom he had two sons and three daughters, but it was not a happy marriage and he was a notorious philanderer ("The Welsh goat") and had several illegitimate children. As the music hall song has it, "DLG knew my father", but the question it was often more appropriate to ask was whether he knew your mother!
In 1890 DLG was elected to Parliament in a by-election in Caernarvon Boroughs, the seat he was to hold for the next 55 years. In the ten years of Liberal opposition after the election of 1895, DLG became a leader of the radical wing of the Liberal party, opposing the South African War, as a result of which he was nearly lynched in a near-riot in Birmingham, which he famously escaped disguised as a policeman.
In the new Liberal government of 1906, DLG was appointed President of the Board of Trade, in which role he was responsible for the Merchant Shipping Act of 1906, improving seamen's lives; the Patents and Designs Act of 1907 preventing the foreign exploitation of British inventions, and the Port of London Act of 1908 which established the Port of London Authority. He also earned a good reputation as a patient settler of strikes.
In 1908 DLG became Chancellor of the Exchequer. This was a notable promotion and made him a strong competitor for the premiership after Asquith. The House of Lords had blocked much of its social reform legislation of the Liberal Party, and the radical wing of the party was concerned that its thunder might be stolen by the new Labour Party unless the deadlock could be broken. At the same time, the demand for more battleships to match the German naval program threatened the finances available for social reform. To meet these demands, DLG created the famous "Peoples' Budget" of 1909, calling for taxes upon unearned money on the sale of land and on land values, higher death duties, and a supertax on incomes above £3,000. The Conservative majority in the House of Lords foolishly decided to reject it. The consequences of this rejection were two general elections, a major constitutional crisis, and ultimately the creation of the "Parliament Act" of 1911 which permanently limited the powers of the House of Lords
In the years immediately before the war DLG's major achievements were in the field of social insurance. DLG introduced health and unemployment insurance through the "National Insurance Act" of 1911, which laid the foundations of the modern welfare state. Though much of the government's time during these years was occupied by the Irish question, DLG played little part in it and, on the whole, left foreign policy to his colleagues. When the question of entry into the war convulsed the Cabinet in late July and early August 1914, he seemed at first to support the non-interventionist faction. For a brief moment he contemplated retirement. But the tide of events swept him to the other side. As chancellor, he plunged into the financial problems posed by the war.
Through the second half of 1914 and the early months of 1915, DLG was a vigorous advocate of increased munitions production. The government was reconstructed on the basis of a coalition with the Conservatives in 1915 and DLG became minister of munitions. In this capacity, he made one of the most notable contributions to the victory of the Allies. His methods were unorthodox and offended the civil service, but his energy was immense. He imported able assistants from big business and used his eloquence to gain the support of organised labour. When, in the summer of 1916, the great Battle of the Somme began, munitions supplies were available.
DLG held the post of Secretary of State for War for five months, but the chief of the imperial general staff possessed nearly all the important powers of the war minister. DLG began to survey the whole direction of the war with increasing skepticism; and he did not conceal his doubts from his friends who, by the end of November 1916, had become convinced that Asquith should delegate the day-to-day running of the war to a small committee whose chairman should be DLG. There was undoubtedly widespread uneasiness at Asquith's conduct of affairs, particularly in the Conservative Party. Asquith was manoeuvred into resigning on December 5 and was replaced two days later by DLG. He was supported by the leading Conservatives, but the most prominent Liberal ministers resigned with Asquith, causing a split in the Liberal Party from which it never recovered.
One of DLG's most notable efforts was in combating the submarine menace, which, in early 1917, threatened to starve Britain into submission. He achieved this by forcing the adoption of the convoy system upon a reluctant Admiralty. The food shortage resulting from the submarine war was acute. Drastic action had to be taken to step up agricultural production, and eventually a system of food rationing had to be introduced in 1918. In these matters DLG was at his best, contemptuous of red tape, determined to take action and to make his will prevail.
The tide now turned, and the Western Allies launched a series of successful attacks upon the exhausted Germans. Following the Armistice of November 1918 DLG had to decide whether to allow a return to peacetime party politics or continue the coalition. The leader of the Conservatives, Bonar Law, was willing to cooperate. A somewhat perfunctory offer to include Asquith was declined. The ensuing election in December gave the coalitionists an overwhelming victory. The rift between DLG and Asquith's supporters was now wider than ever, however, and DLG was now largely dependent on Conservative support.
As one of the three great statesmen at Versailles, DLG bears a major responsibility for the peace settlement. He pursued a middle course between Georges Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson. But, throughout, DLG was under pressure to pursue the more draconian policy of Clemenceau. It is to his credit that the final settlement was not far worse than it was. The treaty was well received in Britain, and in August 1919 the king conferred on DLG the Order of Merit.
A major domestic problem was Ireland, where Sinn Fein refused to recognize the British Parliament. From 1919 to 1921 a civil war raged. In the summer of 1921, DLG, with full agreement of his Conservative colleagues, reversed the policy of repression in Ireland and began the negotiations that culminated in Irish independence in December 1921. The more rigid Tories never forgave this "surrender," as they deemed it. In 1922 DLG ran into trouble over the so-called honours scandal, when accusations were made that peerages and other honours were being sold for large campaign contributions. Tory discontent was rife, when, from a wholly unexpected quarter, a crisis occurred that drove DLG from power forever. This was the Çanak incident, in which it seemed to critics that the reckless foreign policy of the government had led Britain to the verge of an unnecessary war with Turkey. When the Conservative leaders decided to appeal to the country on a coalition basis once again, a party revolt ensued. Bonar Law, who had retired because of ill health in 1921, returned to the political scene. On Oct. 19, 1922, a two-to-one majority of Conservative members of Parliament endorsed his and Stanley Baldwin's plea to fight as an independent party. DLG at once resigned.
The long twilight of DLG's career was a melancholy anticlimax. The feud with the Asquithians was never healed, and from 1926 to 1931 he headed an ailing Liberal Party. He devoted himself thereafter to writing his "War Memoirs" (published 1933-36) and "The Truth About the Peace Treaties" (1938). In 1940 Winston Churchill invited him to join his War Cabinet, but DLG declined, ostensibly on grounds of age and health. Just two months before his death, he was elevated to the peerage as Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor.
Press "Back" to return.
(c) Arwel Parry, 1998. Last updated 06-08-1998