David Lloyd George, the son of William George and Elizabeth Lloyd, was born in Manchester on 17th January, 1863.
David's father, a schoolmaster, died a year after he was born and his mother took her two children to live with her brother, Richard Lloyd, a shoemaker in Llanystumdwy, Caernarvonshire. The Lloyd family were staunch Nonconformists and worshipped at the Disciples of Christ Chapel in Criccieth. Richard Lloyd was Welsh-speaking and deeply resented English dominance over Wales.
Lloyd George was an intelligent boy and did very well at his local school. It was decided that he should become a solicitor and after passing the Law Society examination was articled in January 1879, to a firm of solicitors in Portmadog.
After completing his training, David Lloyd George established his own law practice in Criccieth. He soon developed a reputation as a solicitor who was willing to defend people against those in authority.
In 1888 Lloyd George married Margaret Owen, the daughter of a prosperous farmer. He remained an active member of the Disciples of Christ Chapel and it was during his church work that he gained his early training as an orator. Lloyd George developed a reputation as a fiery preacher and was often asked to speak at Temperance Society meetings in Wales.
Lloyd George joined the local Liberal Party and became an alderman on the Caernarvon County Council. He also took part in several political campaigns including one that attempted to bring an end to church tithes. Lloyd George was also a strong supporter of land reform. As a young man he had read books by Thomas Spence, John Stuart Mill and Henry George on the need to tackle this issue. He had also been impressed by pamphlets written by George Bernard Shaw and Sidney Webb of the Fabian Society on the need to tackle the issue of land ownership.
In 1890 Lloyd George was selected as the Liberal candidate for the Caernarvon Borough constituency. A by-election took place later that year when the sitting Conservative MP died. Lloyd George fought the election on a programme which called for religious equality in Wales, land reform, the local veto in granting licenses for the sale of alcohol, graduated taxation and free trade. Lloyd George won the seat by 18 votes and at twenty-seven became the youngest member of the House of Commons.
Lloyd George's dramatic oratory soon brought him to the attention of the leaders of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons. However, it was felt he was too radical and they suspected that he would lose his seat in the 1900 General Election because of his opposition to the Boer War. However, in Caernarvon he was seen as the most important figure in Parliament defending Welsh rights and was re-elected.
The leadership of the Liberal Party also disapproved of Lloyd George's role in the campaign against the 1902 Education Act. In his speeches on this issue he appeared to be encouraging people to break the law by supporting John Clifford and his National Passive Resistance Committee. As a result of Clifford's campaign, over 170 Nonconformists went to prison for refusing to pay their school taxes.
After the 1906 General Election, the leader of the Liberal Party, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, became the new Prime-Minister. Lloyd George was given the post of President of the Board of Trade. In 1908 the new prime minister, Henry Asquith, promoted him to the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lloyd George now had the opportunity to introduce reforms that he had been campaigning for since he first arrived in the House of Commons.
Lloyd George had been a long opponent of the Poor Law in Britain. He was determined to take action that in his words would "lift the shadow of the workhouse from the homes of the poor". He believed the best way of doing this was to guarantee an income to people who were to old to work. Based on the ideas of Tom Paine that first appeared in his book Rights of Man in 1791, Lloyd George's measure, the Old Age Pensions Act, provided between 1s. and 5s. a week to people over seventy.
To pay for these pensions Lloyd George had to raise government revenues by an additional £16 million a year. In 1909 Lloyd George announced what became known as the People's Budget. This included increases in taxation. Whereas people on lower incomes were to pay 9d. in the pound, those on annual incomes of over £3,000 had to pay 1s. 2d. in the pound. Lloyd George also introduced a new supertax of 6d. in the pound for those earning £5000 a year. Other measures included an increase in death duties on the estates of the rich and heavy taxes on profits gained from the ownership and sale of property. Other innovations in Lloyd George's budget included labour exchanges and a children's allowance on income tax.
Ramsay MacDonald argued that the Labour Party should fully support the budget. "Mr. Lloyd George's Budget, classified property into individual and social, incomes into earned and unearned, and followers more closely the theorical contentions of Socialism and sound economics than any previous Budget has done."
The Conservatives, who had a large majority in the House of Lords, objected to this attempt to redistribute wealth, and made it clear that they intended to block these proposals. Lloyd George reacted by touring the country making speeches in working-class areas on behalf of the budget and portraying the nobility as men who were using their privileged position to stop the poor from receiving their old age pensions. After a long struggle with the House of Lords Lloyd George finally got his budget through parliament.
With the House of Lords extremely unpopular with the British people, the Liberal government decided to take action to reduce its powers. The 1911 Parliament Act drastically cut the powers of the Lords. They were no longer allowed to prevent the passage of 'money bills' and it also restricted their ability to delay other legislation to three sessions of parliament.
When the House of Lords attempted to stop this bill's passage, the Prime Minister, Henry Asquith, appealed to George V for help. Asquith, who had just obtained a victory in the 1910 General Election, was in a strong position, and the king agreed that if necessary he would create 250 new Liberal peers to remove the Conservative majority in the Lords. Faced with the prospect of a House of Lords with a permanent Liberal majority, the Conservatives agreed to let the 1911 Parliament Act to become law.
Lloyd George's next reform was the 1911 National Insurance Act. This gave the British working classes the first contributory system of insurance against illness and unemployment. All wage-earners between sixteen and seventy had to join the health scheme. Each worker paid 4d a week and the employer added 3d. and the state 2d. In return for these payments, free medical attention, including medicine was given. Those workers who contributed were also guaranteed 7s. a week for fifteen weeks in any one year, when they were unemployed.
Lloyd George's reforms were strongly criticised and some Conservatives accused him of being a socialist. There was no doubt that he had been heavily influenced by Fabian Society pamphlets on social reform that had been written by Beatrice Webb, Sidney Webb and George Bernard Shaw in the early 1900s. However, he had also been influenced by non-socialist writers such Seebohm Rowntree and Charles Booth.
Although most Labour Party members of the House of Commons had welcomed Lloyd George's reforms, politicians such as James Keir Hardie, Fred Jowett and George Lansbury argued that the level of benefits were far too low. They also complained that the pensions should be universal and disliked what was later to be called the Means Test aspect of these reforms.
In 1912 Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton of the political weekly, The Eye-Witness, accused Loyd George, along with Herbert Samuel and Rufus Isaacs of corruption. It was suggested that the men had profited by buying shares based on knowledge of a government contract granted to the Marconi Company to build a chain of wireless stations.
In January 1913 a parliamentary inquiry was held into the claims made by The Eye-Witness. It was discovered that Rufus Isaacs had purchased 10,000 £2 shares in Marconi and immediately resold 1,000 of these to Lloyd George. Although the parliamentary inquiry revealled that Lloyd George, Herbert Samuel and Sir Rufus Isaacs had profited directly from the policies of the government, it was decided the men had not been guilty of corruption.
When in opposition, Lloyd George had always been a supporter of women's rights, however, when in power, he did little to help the cause. This upsets members of both the NUWSS and the WSPU and resulted in many activists leaving the Liberal Party. In July 1912, Christabel Pankhurst began organizing a secret arson campaign. One of their first targets was Lloyd George and they successful burnt down a house that was being built for him.
At the end of July, 1914, it became clear to the British government that the country was on the verge of war with Germany. Four senior members of the government, Lloyd George, Charles Trevelyan, John Burns, and John Morley, were opposed to the country becoming involved in a European war. They informed the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, they intended to resign over the issue. When war was declared on 4th August, three of the men, Trevelyan, Burns and Morley, resigned, but Asquith managed to persuade Lloyd George, to change his mind.
The progressive wing of the Liberal Party, was disappointed with Lloyd George's unwillingness to oppose Britain's involvement in the First World War. In fact, he soon emerged as one of the main figures in the government willing to escalate the war in an effort to bring a quick victory. When the war appeared to be going badly in 1915, Lloyd George was asked to become Minister of Munitions. The coalition government was impressed with Lloyd George's abilities as a war minister and began to question Asquith's leadership of the country during this crisis.
The consequences of the Battle of the Somme put further pressure on Asquith. Colin Matthew has commented: "The huge casualties of the Somme implied a further drain on manpower and further problems for an economy now struggling to meet the demands made of it... Shipping losses from the U-boats had begun to be significant... Early in November 1916 he called for all departments to write memoranda on how they saw the pattern of 1917, the prologue to a general reconsideration of the allies' position."
It has been suggested that Herbert Asquith and the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) was never able to get total control of the war effort. It has been argued by John F. Naylor: "Neither this flawed body - partly advisory, partly executive - nor its two successors, the Dardanelles committee (June - October 1915), and the war committee (November 1915 - November 1916) enabled the Asquith coalition to prevail over the military authorities in planning what remained an ineffective war effort."
At a meeting in Paris on 4th November, 1916, David Lloyd George came to the conclusion that the present structure of command and direction of policy could not win the war and might well lose it. Lloyd George agreed with Maurice Hankey, secretary of the Imperial War Cabinet, that he should talk to Andrew Bonar Law, the leader of the Conservative Party, about the situation. Bonar Law remained loyal to Asquith and so Lloyd George contacted Max Aitken instead and told him about his suggested reforms.
On 18th November, Aitken lunched with Bonar Law and put Lloyd George's case for reform. He also put forward the arguments for Lloyd George becoming the leader of the coalition. Aitken later recalled in his book, Politicians and the War (1928): "Once he had taken up war as his metier he seemed to breathe its true spirit; all other thoughts and schemes were abandoned, and he lived for, thought of and talked of nothing but the war. Ruthless to inefficiency and muddle-headedness in his conduct, sometimes devious, if you like, in the means employed when indirect methods would serve him in his aim, he yet exhibited in his country's death-grapple a kind of splendid sincerity."
Together, Lloyd George, Max Aitken, Andrew Bonar Law and Edward Carson, drafted a statement addressed to Asquith, proposing a war council triumvirate and the Prime Minister as overlord. On 25th November, Bonar Law took the proposal to Asquith, who agreed to think it over. The next day he rejected it. Further negotiations took place and on 2nd December Asquith agreed to the setting up of "a small War Committee to handle the day to day conduct of the war, with full powers", independent of the cabinet. This information was leaked to the press by Carson. On 4th December The Times used these details of the War Committee to make a strong attack on Asquith. The following day he resigned from office.
On 7th December George V asked Lloyd George to form a second coalition government. Max Aitken later recalled that it was the most important thing that he had done in politics: "The destruction of the Asquith Government which was brought about by an honest intrigue. If the Asquith government had gone on, the country would have gone down."
Virginia Woolf dined with the Asquiths "two nights after their downfall; though Asquith himself was quite unmoved, Margot started to cry into the soup." His biographer, Colin Matthew, believes he was pleased that he was out of power: "He was not a great war leader, and he never attempted to portray himself as such. But he was not a bad one, either. Wartime to him was an aberration, not a fulfilment. In terms of the political style of Britain's conduct of the war, that was an important virtue, but it led Asquith to underestimate the extent to which twentieth-century warfare was an all-embracing experience, and his sometimes almost perverse personal reluctance to appear constantly busy and unceasingly active told against him in the political and press world generally."
Lloyd George decided to establish what he described as "virtually a new system of government in this country". John F. Naylor has explained: "Hankey headed the operation - the secretary himself drew up the procedural rules - with these responsibilities, among others: (1) to record the proceedings of the War Cabinet; (2) to transmit relevant extracts from the minutes to departments concerned with implementing them or otherwise interested; (3) to prepare the agenda paper, and to arrange the attendance of ministers not in the War Cabinet and others required to be present for discussion of particular items on the agenda; (4) to receive papers from departments and circulate them to the War Cabinet or others as necessary. Thus Hankey established the precepts for a co-ordinating and record-keeping organization which the cabinet secretariat and its seamless successor, the Cabinet Office (from 1920), subsequently followed. The creation of the cabinet secretariat was his greatest achievement."
A.J.P. Taylor has argued in English History 1914-1945 (1965): "Where the old cabinet had met once a week or so and had kept no record of its proceedings, the war cabinet met practically every day - 300 times in 1917 - and Hankey, brought over from the Committee of Imperial Defence and its successors, organized an efficient secretariat. He prepared agenda; kept minutes; and ensured afterwards that the decisions were operated by the department concerned. Hankey was also tempted to exceed his functions and to initiate proposals, particularly on strategy, instead of merely recording decisions."
Lloyd George, who had upset the radicals in his party by not opposing conscription in 1916, was now in overall charge of the war effort. However, Lloyd George found it difficult to control the tactics used by his generals on the Western Front but he had more success with the navy when he persuaded them to use the convoy system to ensure adequate imports of food and military supplies. At various stages advocated a campaign on the Italian front and sought to divert military resources to the Turkish theatre.
The military situation became worse after Germany concluded a separate peace with Russia. The War Cabinet, in a panic, talked of pulling back to the Channel ports and evacuating all British troops to England.
According to the historian, Michael Kettle, a group of military leaders became involved in a plot to overthrow David Lloyd George. Those involved in the conspiracy included General William Robertson, Chief of Staff and the prime ministers main political adviser, Maurice Hankey, the secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID), General Frederick Maurice, director of military operations at the War Office and Colonel Charles Repington, the military correspondent of the Morning Post. Kettle argues that: "What Maurice had in mind was a small War Cabinet, dominated by Robertson, assisted by a brilliant British Ludendorff, and with a subservient Prime Minister. It is unclear who Maurice had in mind for this Ludendorff figure; but it is very clear that the intention was to get rid of Lloyd George - and quickly."
On 24th January, 1918, Repington wrote an article where he described what he called "the procrastination and cowardice of the Cabinet". Later that day Repington heard on good authority that Lloyd George had strongly urged the War Cabinet to imprison both him and his editor, Howell Arthur Gwynne. That evening Repington was invited to have dinner with Lord Chief Justice Charles Darling, where he received a polite judicial rebuke.
General William Robertson disagreed with Lloyd George's proposal to create an executive war board, chaired by Ferdinand Foch, with broad powers over allied reserves. Robertson expressed his opposition to General Herbert Plumer in a letter on 4th February, 1918: "It is impossible to have Chiefs of the General Staffs dealing with operations in all respects except reserves and to have people with no other responsibilities dealing with reserves and nothing else. In fact the decision is unsound, and neither do I see how it is to be worked either legally or constitutionally."
On 11th February, Repington, revealed in the Morning Post details of the coming offensive on the Western Front. Lloyd George later recorded: "The conspirators decided to publish the war plans of the Allies for the coming German offensive. Repington's betrayal might and ought to have decided the war." Repington and his editor, Howell Arthur Gwynne, were fined £100 each, plus costs, for a breach of Defence of the Realm regulations when he disclosed secret information in the newspaper.
General William Robertson wrote to Repington suggesting that he had been the one who had leaked him the information: "Like yourself, I did what I thought was best in the general interests of the country. I feel that your sacrifice has been great and that you have a difficult time in front of you. But the great thing is to keep on a straight course". General Frederick Maurice also sent a letter to Repington: "I have the greatest admiration for your courage and determination and am quite clear that you have been the victim of political persecution such as I did not think was possible in England."
Robertson put up a fight in the war cabinet against the proposed executive war board, but when it was clear that Lloyd George was unwilling to back down, he resigned his post. He was now replaced with General Henry Wilson. General Douglas Haig rejected the idea that Robertson should become one of his commanders in France and he was given the eastern command instead.
On 9th April, 1918, Lloyd George, told the House of Commons that despite heavy casualties in 1917, the British Army in France was considerably stronger than it had been on January 1917. He also gave details of the number of British troops in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Palestine. Frederick Maurice, whose job it was to keep accurate statistics of British military strength, knew that Lloyd George had been guilty of misleading Parliament about the number of men in the British Army. Maurice believed that Lloyd George was deliberately holding back men from the Western Front in an attempt to undermine the position of Sir Douglas Haig.
On 6th May, 1918, Frederick Maurice wrote a letter to the press stating that ministerial statements were false. The letter appeared on the following morning in the The Morning Post, The Times, The Daily Chronicle and The Daily News. The letter accused David Lloyd George of giving the House of Commons inaccurate information. The letter created a sensation. Maurice was immediately suspended from duty and supporters of Herbert Henry Asquith called for a debate on the issue.
Maurice's biographer, Trevor Wilson: "Despite containing some errors of detail, the charges contained in Maurice's letter were well founded. Haig had certainly been obliged against his wishes to take over from the French the area of front where his army suffered setback on 21 March. The numbers of infantrymen available to Haig were fewer, not greater, than a year before. And there were several more ‘white’ divisions stationed in Egypt and Palestine at the time of the German offensive than the government had claimed."
The debate took place on 9th May and the motion put forward amounted to a vote of censure. If the government lost the vote, the prime minister would have been forced to resign. As A.J.P. Taylor has pointed out: "Lloyd George developed an unexpectedly good case. With miraculous sleight of hand, he showed that the figures of manpower which Maurice impuhned, had been supplied from the war office by Maurice's department." Although many MPs suspected that Lloyd George had mislead Parliament, there was no desire to lose his dynamic leadership during this crucial stage of the war. The government won the vote with a clear majority.
Frederick Maurice, by writing the letter, had committed a grave breach of discipline. He was retired from the British Army and was refused a court martial or inquiry where he would have been able to show that David Lloyd George had mislead the House of Commons on both the 9th April and 7th May, 1918.
According to Trevor Wilson: "And although Lloyd George subsequently claimed that the government had been supplied with its figures concerning troop strengths on the western front by Maurice's own department (figures which happened to be inaccurate), these had only been provided after the statements by Lloyd George to which Maurice took exception, and had been corrected by the time Lloyd George made his rebuttal to Maurice in the parliamentary debate of 9 May. Whether, even so, a serving officer should have taken issue with his political masters in the public way Maurice did must remain a matter of opinion. Haig, for one, certainly thought not, as he recorded in his diary. Maurice himself took the view that, as a concerned citizen, he was obliged to rebut misleading statements by ministers which served to divert responsibility for setbacks on the battlefield from the political authorities, where it belonged, to the military. To this end he was prepared to sacrifice his career in the army."
Lloyd George's decision to join the Conservatives in removing Herbert Asquith in 1916 split the Liberal Party. In the 1918 General Election, many Liberals supported candidates who remained loyal to Asquith. Despite this, Lloyd George's Coalition group won 459 seats and had a large majority over the Labour Party and members of the Liberal Party who had supported Asquith.
Herbert Asquith lost his seat in East Fife in 1918 and William Wedgwood Benn led the groups opposed to Lloyd George's government. John Benn, who was also opposed to Lloyd George, gave the group the name, Wee Frees, after a small group of Free Church of Scotland members who refused to accept the union of their church with the United Presbyterian Church.
At the Versailles Peace Conference Lloyd George clashed with Georges Clemenceau about how the defeated powers should be treated. Lloyd George told Clemenceau that his proposals were too harsh and would "plunge Germany and the greater part of Europe into Bolshevism." Clemenceau replied that Lloyd George's alternative proposals would lead to Bolshevism in France.
At the end of the negotiations Clemenceau managed to restore Alsace-Lorraine to France but some of his other demands were resisted by the other delegates. Clemenceau, like most people in France, thought that Germany had been treated too leniently at Versailles.
During the 1918 General Election campaign, Lloyd George promised comprehensive reforms to deal with education, housing, health and transport. However, he was now a prisoner of the Conservative Party who had no desire to introduce these reforms. Lloyd George endured three years of frustration before he was ousted from power by the Conservative members of his cabinet.
For the next twenty years Lloyd George continued to campaign for progressive causes, but without a political party to support him, he was never to hold power again. During the 1920s Lloyd George produced several reports on how Britain could be improved. This included Coal and Power (1924), Towns and the Land (1925), Britain's Industrial Future (1928) and We Can Conquer Unemployment (1929).
On 22nd September 22, 1933, Lloyd George declared in a speech at Barmouth: “If the Powers succeed in overthrowing Nazism in Germany, what would follow? Not a Conservative, Socialist or Liberal regime, but extreme Communism. Surely that could not be their objective. A Communist Germany would be infinitely more formidable than a Communist Russia.”
In September 1936 Lloyd George visited Adolf Hitler in an attempt to persuade him not to stop taking military action in Europe. After his arrival back in Britain he wrote in the Daily Express : "I have now seen the famous German leader and also something of the great change he has effected. Whatever one may think of his methods - and they are certainly not those of a Parliamentary country - there can be no doubt that he has achieved a marvellous transformation in the spirit of the people, in their attitude towards each other, and in their social and economic outlook. One man has accomplished this miracle. He is a born leader of men. A magnetic dynamic personality with a single-minded purpose, a resolute will, and a dauntless heart."
David Lloyd George died on 26th March, 1945.